Mountaintop removal coal mining is the predominant form of surface mining in the Appalachian Region of the United States and leads to elevated levels of chemical constituents in streams draining mined watersheds. This data set contains measurements of water chemistry in the mountaintop mined landscape of Central Appalachia. These data were collected to determine the accumulation and transport of mercury (Hg) and selenium (Se) across environmental compartments in mountaintop mining‐impacted waters as well as the impact of mountaintop mining on the aquatic‐terrestrial subsidy. Samples were collected in summer 2017 and spring/summer 2018. Data predominantly include Se, THg, and methylmercury (MeHg) in the following environmental compartments at sites impacted and unimpacted by mountaintop removal coal mining: water, sediment, biofilm, larval cranefly, adult aquatic insects, and spiders. Additional water parameters that have been found to vary across a gradient of mountaintop mining impact (total organic carbon [TOC], total nitrogen [TN], sulfate [SO4], nitrate [NO3], chloride [Cl], pH, sodium [Na], potassium [K], magnesium [Mg], calcium [Ca], manganese [Mn], sulfur [S], specific conductance) were also measured. The majority of sites represented are headwater streams, although some settling ponds below valley fills are included. This data set also includes taxonomic characterization of the adult aquatic insect community as well as measurements of spider density at a subset of sites. There are no copyright restrictions; please cite this data paper when the data are used in publications.
The rivers of Appalachia (United States) are among the most biologically diverse freshwater ecosystems in the temperate zone and are home to numerous endemic aquatic organisms. Throughout the Central Appalachian ecoregion, extensive surface coal mines generate alkaline mine drainage that raises the pH, salinity, and trace element concentrations in downstream waters. Previous regional assessments have found significant declines in stream macroinvertebrate and fish communities after draining these mined areas. Here, we expand these assessments with a more comprehensive evaluation across a broad range of organisms (bacteria, algae, macroinvertebrates, all eukaryotes, and fish) using high‐throughput amplicon sequencing of environmental DNA (eDNA). We collected water samples from 93 streams in Central Appalachia (West Virginia, United States) spanning a gradient of mountaintop coal mining intensity and legacy to assess how this land use alters downstream water chemistry and affects aquatic biodiversity. For each group of organisms, we identified the sensitive and tolerant taxa along the gradient and calculated stream specific conductivity thresholds in which large synchronous declines in diversity were observed. Streams below mining operations had steep declines in diversity (−18 to −41%) and substantial shifts in community composition that were consistent across multiple taxonomic groups. Overall, large synchronous declines in bacterial, algal, and macroinvertebrate communities occurred even at low levels of mining impact at stream specific conductivity thresholds of 150–200 µS/cm that are substantially below the current U.S. Environmental Protection Agency aquatic life benchmark of 300 µS/cm for Central Appalachian streams. We show that extensive coal surface mining activities led to the extirpation of 40% of biodiversity from impacted rivers throughout the region and that current water quality criteria are likely not protective for many groups of aquatic organisms.more » « less
- NSF-PAR ID:
- Publisher / Repository:
- Wiley Blackwell (John Wiley & Sons)
- Date Published:
- Journal Name:
- Ecological Applications
- Medium: X
- Sponsoring Org:
- National Science Foundation
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