2018 journal article
Relation of contaminants to fish intersex in riverine sport fishes
SCIENCE OF THE TOTAL ENVIRONMENT, 643, 73–89.
Endocrine active compounds (EACs) are pollutants that have been recognized as an emerging and widespread threat to aquatic ecosystems globally. Intersex, the presence of female germ cells within a predominantly male gonad, is considered a biomarker of endocrine disruption caused by EACs. We measured a suite of EACs and assessed their associated impacts on fish intersex occurrence and severity in a large, regulated river system in North Carolina and South Carolina, USA. Our specific objective was to determine the relationship of contaminants in water, sediment, and fish tissue with the occurrence and severity of the intersex condition in wild, adult black bass (Micropterus), sunfish (Lepomis), and catfish (Ictaluridae) species at 11 sites located on the Yadkin-Pee Dee River. Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), ethinylestradiol (EE2), and heavy metals were the most prevalent contaminants that exceeded effect levels for the protection of aquatic organisms. Fish intersex condition was most frequently observed and most severe in black basses and was less frequently detected and less severe in sunfishes and catfishes. The occurrence of the intersex condition in fish showed site-related effects, rather than increasing longitudinal trends from upstream to downstream. Mean black bass and catfish tissue contaminant concentrations were higher than that of sunfish, likely because of the latter's lower trophic position in the food web. Principal component analysis identified waterborne PAHs as the most correlated environmental contaminant with intersex occurrence and severity in black bass and sunfish. As indicated by the intersex condition, EACs have adverse but often variable effects on the health of wild sport fishes in this river, likely due to fluctuations in EAC inputs and the dynamic nature of the riverine system. These findings enhance the understanding of the relationship between contaminants and fish health and provide information to guide ecologically comprehensive conservation and management decisions.