Marine and Freshwater Research Marine and Freshwater Research Society
Advances in the aquatic sciences

Effects of sediment pollution on food webs in a tropical river (Borneo, Indonesia)

Catherine M. Yule A E , Luz Boyero B C and Richard Marchant D

A School of Science, Monash University, Sunway Campus, Jalan Lagoon Selatan, Bandar Sunway, 46150 Petaling Jaya, Malaysia.

B Wetland Ecology Group, Estación Biológica de Doñana-CSIC, Avda Americo Vespucio s/n, E-41092, Sevilla, Spain.

C School of Marine and Tropical Biology, James Cook University, Townsville, Qld 4811, Australia.

D Entomology Department, Museum Victoria, Melbourne, Vic. 3001, Australia.

E Corresponding author. Email:

Marine and Freshwater Research 61(2) 204-213
Submitted: 24 March 2009  Accepted: 2 August 2009   Published: 25 February 2010


The impact of pollution on the trophic ecology of the Kelian River (Borneo, Indonesia) was studied by comparing food webs (on the basis of gut analysis and field and laboratory observations) at six sites. The upper sites were in pristine rainforest but the river became increasingly polluted downstream, largely owing to sedimentation from alluvial gold mining activities. Four previous studies all showed a downstream decrease in macroinvertebrates (mean abundance: 272 per 400 cm2 at Site 1 dropped to 2.6 at Site 6; mean number of taxa: 37.6 at Site 1 down to 1.6 at Site 6), and this was highly correlated with suspended solids. Food webs also reflected the effect of pollution. Cleaner sites had more complex food webs, with more elements, links, higher linkage density and higher complexity than did downstream polluted sites, which lacked grazers, shredders and filterers. Several taxa that were grazers at clean sites became collector-gatherers at polluted sites. Despite the enormous impact of pollution, cessation of alluvial mining activities resulted in some recovery. The resilience of the fauna is likely to be enhanced by the tropical conditions with high rainfall, rapid flow rates and high temperatures, coupled with rapid life cycles. Fish distribution and diets did not appear to be affected by pollution.

Additional keywords: dietary groups, gold mining, gut content analysis, Kelian River, macroinvertebrates, resilience.


Bihu and Gregorius Palon collected and sorted the macroinvertebrate samples. PT KEM provided logistic assistance and chemical analyses. Esther Anderson identified the algae. Lavenia Ratnarajah assisted with statistical analyses. Comments from two referees greatly helped in revising this paper.


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