Cavefish Population Status and Environmental Quality in Cave Springs Cave, Arkansas - Final Report submitted to Arkansas Natural Heritage Commission
pollution, water quality monitoring, population studies, cave fauna, subterranean ecosystems
This report summarizes the continuing effort to monitor environmental quality in the Cave Springs Cave Natural Area and to implement the Ozark Cavefish Recovery Plan. Last year’s report (Brown et al., 1998) identified certain environmental stressors, including a trend over 15 years of increasing nutrient pollution, a low cavefish population count of only 106, and the presence of heavy metals in the cave water and one semi-volatile organic compound (the phthalate DEHP at 500 ppb) in resident crayfish tissue. This year’s monitoring effort demonstrates that fecal coliforms continue to exceed Arkansas State Water Quality Standards (Regulation 2), sometimes by a factor of 1000. The presence of heavy metals is confirmed, in not only the cave water and sediments, but in crayfish tissue, which implies that it may be bioaccumulating in the cave foodweb. Furthermore, beryllium, copper, lead, selenium, and zinc are present in concentrations in the cave water that exceeded the Regulation 2 standards for chronic, and sometimes acute, toxicity to aquatic life. Significant amounts of nitrate are also present (with a yearly average of over 5 mg NO3-N/ L), and phosphate concentrations occasionally exceed Regulation 2 standards. Concentrations of nitrate, ortho-phosphate, total phosphate, total coliforms, and several dissolved metals (Al, Ba, Cu, Fe, and Pb) were all highly correlated with discharge, and concentrations were highest during stormflow events. No pesticides were detected in cave water, crayfish tissue or bat guano. Phthalates were again detected in crayfish tissue (DEP and DEHP at 1 ppb each), as well as the cave water (DEHP at 0.7 ppb). While the effects of these phthalates upon aquatic organisms are unknown, the U. S. Environmental Protection Agency considers phthalates to be human carcinogens and hormone disrupters. Ironically, while the cavefish habitat appears to be quite polluted, this year’s population survey counted 166 Ozark cavefish, the most ever counted for this (or any other) habitat. In order to integrate these pollution concerns and other data about this cave complex, a geographic information system was created for the Cave Springs Cave recharge zone. Preliminary analyses have detected several sensitive areas and pollution sources. The cave complex was determined to extend outside of the Natural Area boundary, and several sinkholes were identified. Photo-lineaments and fracture traces were identified, and other studies in Benton County demonstrate that these features, commonly expressed as intermittent streams on the surface, allow surface pollutants to rapidly enter the groundwater. Protection of these adjacent lands, sinkholes, and streams is recommended. The reduction or cessation of the land application of sewage sludge and agricultural waste in the recharge zone is also recommended.
Graening, G. O. and Brown, Arthur V.. 1999. Cavefish Population Status and Environmental Quality in Cave Springs Cave, Arkansas - Final Report submitted to Arkansas Natural Heritage Commission. Arkansas Water Resources Center, Fayetteville, AR. MSC276. 38
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