Many rivers have been impacted by heavy metal pollution in the past but the long-term legacies on biodiversity are difficult to estimate. The River Ulla (NW Spain) was impacted by tailings from a copper mine during the 1970–1980s but absence of baseline values and lack of subsequent monitoring have prevented a full impact assessment. We used archived fish scales of Atlantic salmon to reconstruct levels of historical copper pollution and its effects on salmon fitness. Copper bioaccumulation significantly increased over baseline values during the operation of the mine, reaching sublethal levels for salmon survival. Juvenile growth and relative population abundance decreased during mining, but no such effects were observed in a neighbouring river unaffected by mining. Our results indicate that historical copper exposure has probably compromised the fitness of this Atlantic salmon population to the present day, and that fish scales are suitable biomarkers of past river pollution.
Environmental Pollution – Elsevier
Published: Mar 1, 2018
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