Microcosm experiments have been carried out with whole natural meiobenthic communities to look at the effects of TBT sediment contamination on the community structure of the dominant nematode component of the meiobenthos. TBT has a high affinity for aquatic sediments, yet this is the first study of the effects of this contaminant in sediment on natural benthic communities. Three communities were studied from contrasting locations in south-west England: the intertidal of the Lynher estuary (muddy sediment) and the Exe estuary (sandy sediment) and the subtidal (50m depth) at Rame Head off Plymouth (muddy sand). Fresh sediment with natural meiobenthic communities was incubated for 2 months with TBT-contaminated sediment (three dose levels) in bottles. Nematodes were identified and enumerated and subjected to multivariate data analysis. The sandy Exe estuary fauna was significantly affected by TBT-contaminated sediment at all three doses (0.3, 0.6 and 0.9 μg g−1 dry wt (as Sn) sediment), whereas the offshore fauna from Rame Head was significantly affected only at the highest dose. The muddy Lynher estuary meiofauna was affected (somewhat peculiarly) at the medium dose level only. Meiobenthic nematodes may not be as sensitive to TBT-contaminated sediment as other infaunal benthos but exhibited responses to levels of contamination still persisting in some UK estuaries and harbours. Comparing the effects of TBT with those of copper and zinc in the same laboratory experiments, our observations suggest that the relative impact of TBT on meiobenthic community structure is not as great as these contaminants in marine sediments. Although there are very few observations of TBT toxicity in sediment, it appears that TBT is toxic at much lower concentrations in seawater (ppb) than it is in sediment (ppm).
Experimental effects of TBT on meiobenthic communities, more