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Science of The Total Environment
Year: 2009  |  Volume: 407  |  Issue: 16  |  Page No.: 4771 - 4776

Leg deformities of oribatid mites as an indicator of environmental pollution

Tapio Eeva and Ritva Penttinen    

Abstract: Oribatid mites have often been used as indicators of the degree of environmental pollution but few studies have assessed the effects of pollution at individual level. One possible indicator of environmental stress at individual level is structural malformations of exoskeleton. We studied whether a number of leg deformities in soil oribatid mites could be used as an indicator of the degree of heavy metal pollution or acidity in nature. For this purpose we collected soil samples in a well known pollution gradient of a Finnish Cu-Ni smelter. Heavy metals are common pollutants in the area. Ten focal oribatid species were inspected under microscope for deformations in their legs (missing, broken or deformed leg). Of the focal species only one (Chamobates cuspidatus) showed an increasing trend along the pollution gradient in the proportion of leg abnormalities but there were clear differences in proportions among species. We consider that leg deformities are not a good indicator of heavy metal exposure in the studied species. Our data suggest, however, that they may indicate spatial variation in soil pH. We also tested for the possible effects of pollution on oribatid species number and abundances. There were pollution-related differences in relative abundances of mites but not in the number of species. We discuss the relationship between soil pH, calcium requirements and skeletal malformations of oribatid mites.

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