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Development of a New Test Suite of Ecologically-relevant Species for the Assessment of Contaminants in Boreal Soils – Special Emphasis on Oribatid Mites



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Boreal regions account for a significant portion of Canada's landmass and economic resources (e.g., forestry, mining, and oil and gas). The inadvertent release of pollutants from industrial activities within these regions stress the need for realistic ecological risk assessments, which can be attained through the use of standardized soil toxicity test methods. Despite the geophysical and economic significance of boreal regions, standardized soil toxicity test methods applicable to these regions are lacking. To help alleviate this gap in ecotoxicology, the objectives of this thesis included the development and application of a new suite of boreal species for the assessment of contaminants in boreal soils. Specifically, research was directed towards the development of a new oribatid mite test, using Oppia nitens (C.L. Koch). Oribatid mites represent the most abundant and diverse microarthropod species in forest soils, significantly contributing to nutrient cycling and soil formation processes; however, these organisms are consistently under-represented in soil ecotoxicological assessments. The applicability and limitations of the use of O. nitens were demonstrated such that lethal and sublethal endpoints could be derived from the assessment of soils. The performance of O. nitens across numerous soils varied such that adult survival was unaffected by soil characteristics, however, reproduction was limited by soil organic matter content. An evaluation of the sensitivity of O. nitens, using a model polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon was also conducted in a standard test soil. Phenanthrene is a common contaminant in soils, and accumulates within organic-rich horizons, within which oribatid mites live. Therefore, the study was designed to examine the toxicity and bioaccumulation potential of phenanthrene to O. nitens, with a comparison of effect to other soil invertebrate species, as presented in the literature. Oppia nitens was susceptible to phenanthrene at levels comparable to other soil invertebrate species, and the bioaccumulation of the phenanthrene increased with increasing exposure concentration, although steady-state was not achieved during the four-week exposure duration. The accumulation was biphasic in nature, likely a result of initial cuticular sorption processes, followed by the contribution of other processes (e.g., dietary uptake). The elimination of the phenanthrene was not complete, in that at the end of the elimination phase, tissue residues were similar to that observed in the initial gradual accumulation (e.g., by cuticular processes). However, the resultant bioaccumulation factors (BAFs) were relatively low, indicative of limited trophic transfer and biomagnification for this species. Following the development of an O. nitens assay, a further study was conducted to compare the sensitivity of O. nitens to other boreal soil invertebrate species, as well as to standard test species. Soil toxicity tests were designed, using field-collected reference and contaminated (petroleum hydrocarbon- and salt-impacted) soils, using an expanded suite of boreal species (plants: Pinus banksiana, Picea glauca, Picea mariana, Populus tremuloides, Calamagrostis canadensis and Solidago canadensis; earthworms: Dendrodrilus rubidus; and springtails: Folsomia nivalis and Proisotoma minuta). The sensitivity of the boreal species was then compared to that of currently published standard soil toxicity test species (agronomic plants: Elymus lanceolatus and Trifolium pratense; earthworms: Eisenia andrei; and springtails: Folsomia candida). Estimated species sensitivity distributions (ESSDs) were generated to determine whether the boreal and standard test battery of species exhibited differences in their overall sensitivity to the contaminated soil. With regards to the petroleum-hydrocarbon impacted soil, the suite of boreal species was more sensitive relative to the suite of standard test species; however, upon exposure to the salt-impacted soils, no differences in sensitivity were evident between the boreal and standard suite of test species. In both soils, the performance of O. nitens was similar to that observed by the collembolan species. The evaluation of boreal species and soils also took into consideration the use of distinct soil horizons. The layering of horizons was feasible from the initial collection to reassembly for testing in the laboratory, and plant growth was unaffected by this design. However, soil invertebrates demonstrated a preference or avoidance tendency for one horizon over another, and as a result, the assessment of individual horizons was recommended for all future testing. The compilation of research presented herein provides the basis for the standardization of ecologically-relevant test species and methods for the assessment of contaminated soils in boreal regions.



soil, ecotoxicity, boreal, oribatid, mite, plant, springtail, worm



Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)


Toxicology Centre




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