High levels of sediment contamination have little influence on estuarine beach fish communities

Andrew C. McKinley, Katherine A. Dafforn, Matthew D. Taylor, Emma L. Johnston

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21 Citations (Scopus)
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While contaminants are predicted to have measurable impacts on fish assemblages, studies have rarely assessed this potential in the context of natural variability in physico-chemical conditions within and between estuaries. We investigated links between the distribution of sediment contamination (metals and PAHs), physico-chemical variables (pH, salinity, temperature, turbidity) and beach fish assemblages in estuarine environments. Fish communities were sampled using a beach seine within the inner and outer zones of six estuaries that were either heavily modified or relatively unmodified by urbanization and industrial activity. All sampling was replicated over two years with two periods sampled each year. Shannon diversity, biomass and abundance were all significantly higher in the inner zone of estuaries while fish were larger on average in the outer zone. Strong differences in community composition were also detected between the inner and outer zones. Few differences were detected between fish assemblages in heavily modified versus relatively unmodified estuaries despite high concentrations of sediment contaminants in the inner zones of modified estuaries that exceeded recognized sediment quality guidelines. Trends in species distributions, community composition, abundance, Shannon diversity, and average fish weight were strongly correlated to physico-chemical variables and showed a weaker relationship to sediment metal contamination. Sediment PAH concentrations were not significantly related to the fish assemblage. These findings suggest that variation in some physico-chemical factors (salinity, temperature, pH) or variables that co-vary with these factors (e.g., wave activity or grain size) have a much greater influence on this fish assemblage than anthropogenic stressors such as contamination.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere26353
Pages (from-to)1-15
Number of pages15
JournalPLoS ONE
Issue number10
Publication statusPublished - 19 Oct 2011
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Copyright the Author(s) 2011. Version archived for private and non-commercial use with the permission of the author/s and according to publisher conditions. For further rights please contact the publisher.


  • estuaries
  • sediment
  • marine fish
  • contaminants
  • beaches
  • salinity
  • species diversity


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