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Biomonitoring of Environmental Status and Trends (BEST) Program: Selected methods for monitoring chemical contaminants and their effects in aquatic ecosystems

July 2, 2020

This document describes the suite of biological methods of the U.S. Geological Survey- Biomonitoring of Environmental Status and Trends program for monitoring chemical contaminants and their effects on fish. The methods, which were selected by panels of experts, are being field-tested in rivers of the Mississippi River, Columbia River, and Rio Grande basins. General health biomarkers include a health assessment index based on gross observation; histopathological examination of selected organs and tissues; condition factor; and the heptosomatic and splenosomatic indices. Immune system indicators are plasma lysozyme activity and measures of splenic macrophage aggregates. Reproductive biomarkers include plasma concentrations of sex steroid hormones (17β-estradiol and 11-ketotestosterone) and vitellogenin, gonadal histopathology (including reproductive stage and, in females, gonadal atresia), and the gonadosomatic index. Indicators of exposure to polycyclic aromatic and polyhalogenated hydrocarbons are the H4IIE rat hepatoma cell bioassay (performed on solvent extracts of composite fish samples) and hepatic ethoxyresorufin-O-deethylase activity. Stable nitrogen isotope ratios are used to assess the trophic position of the fish and their exposure to sewage and other animal wastes. For each indicator we describe endpoint(s) and methods, and discuss the indicator?s value and limitations for contaminant monitoring and assessment.