Catalan Institute for Water Research (ICRA), Girona, Spain; Department of Evolutionary Biology, Ecology and Environmental Sciences, Faculty of Biology, Universitat de Barcelona (UB), Barcelona, Spain. Electronic address: [Email]
Urban wastewater effluents bring large amounts of nutrients, organic matter and organic microcontaminants into freshwater ecosystems. The effects of this complex mixture of pollutants on freshwater invertebrates have been studied mainly in temperate rivers and streams with high dilution capacities. In contrast, Mediterranean streams and rivers have lower dilution capacities especially during the seasonal drought, and are therefore exposed to high concentrations of pollutants. Here, we assess the effects of urban wastewater pollution on invertebrate communities from Mediterranean streams under different hydrological conditions. Specifically, we assessed the invertebrates taxonomic composition and functional biological traits in 12 streams, differing in stream and substrate size (sand or cobbles), under low (2 surveys) and baseflow (1 survey) conditions. In each stream, we selected reaches both upstream and downstream of the wastewater discharge point. Our results indicate that urban wastewater pollution favours the most tolerant invertebrate taxa and homogenises functional trait composition over time. Changes in functional traits were more evident during the seasonal drought, when the low flow conditions at the upstream and downstream sites were more severe and, pollutant concentrations downstream were at their highest. However, the effects of urban wastewater pollution were not uniform in the downstream sites; as local invertebrate communities differed in according to the river substrate and stream size (i.e., width and discharge). Overall, urban pollution caused by wastewater enhanced both, taxonomic and functional differences between the invertebrate communities. Such an absence of homogenisation among wastewater pollution impacted sites was probably related to the relevant role of stream substrate-size as well flow conditions in the rivers receiving the impact. These are attributes that need to be considered when setting the pollutant discharge limits in rivers and streams receiving effluents.