John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

Using ordination and clustering techniques to assess multi‐metric fish health response following a coal ash spill

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The effect of coal ash exposure on fish health in freshwater communities is largely unknown. Given the large number of possible pathways of effects (e.g., toxicological effect of exposure to multiple metals, physical effects from ash exposure, and food web effects), measurement of only a few health metrics is not likely to give a complete picture. We measured a suite of 20 health metrics from 1100+ fish collected from 5 sites (3 affected and 2 reference) near a coal ash spill in east Tennessee over a 4.5 yr period. The metrics represented a wide range of physiological and energetic responses and were evaluated simultaneously using two multivariate techniques. Results from both hierarchical clustering and canonical discriminant analyses suggested that for most speciesXseason combinations the suite of fish health indicators varied more among years than between spill and reference sites within a year. In a few cases, spill sites from early years in the investigation stood alone or clustered together separate from reference sites and later year spill sites. Outlier groups of fish with relatively unique health profiles were most often from spill sites suggesting that some response to the ash exposure may have occurred. Results from the two multivariate methods suggested that any change in the health status of fish at the spill sites was small and appears to have diminished since the first 2–3 yr after the spill. Environ Toxicol Chem © 2014 SETAC

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