Environmental pollution | 2021
The combined effects of macrophytes and three road salts on aquatic communities in outdoor mesocosms.
Because of environmental and societal concerns, new strategies are being developed to mitigate the effects of road salt. These include new deicers that are alternatives to or mixtures with the most common road salt, sodium chloride (NaCl), improved techniques and equipment, and biotic mitigation methods. Using outdoor mesocosms, we investigated the impacts of NaCl and two common alternatives, magnesium chloride (MgCl2) and calcium chloride (CaCl2) on freshwater communities. We also investigated the mitigation ability of a common macrophyte, Elodea. We hypothesized that road salt exposure reduces filamentous algae, zooplankton, and macrocrustaceans, but results in increases in phytoplankton and gastropods. We also hypothesized that MgCl2 is the most toxic salt to communities, followed by CaCl2, and then NaCl. Lastly, we hypothesized that macrophytes mitigate some of the effects of road salt, specifically the effects on primary producers. We found that all three salts reduced filamentous algal biomass and amphipod abundance, but only MgCl2 reduced Elodea biomass. MgCl2 had the largest and longest lasting effects on zooplankton, specifically cladocerans and copepods, which resulted in a significant increase in phytoplankton and rotifers. CaCl2 increased ostracods and decreased snail abundance, but NaCl increased snail abundance. Lastly, while we did not find many interactions between road salt and macrophyte treatments, macrophytes did counteract many of the salt effects on producers, leading to decreased phytoplankton, increased filamentous algae, and altered abiotic responses. Thus, at similar chloride concentrations, NaCl alternatives, specifically MgCl2, are not safer for aquatic ecosystems and more research is needed to find safer road management strategies to protect freshwater ecosystems.