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Retrospective analysis of estrogenic endocrine disruption and land-use influences in the Chesapeake Bay watershed

November 19, 2020

The Chesapeake Bay is the largest estuary in the United States and its watershed includes river drainages in six states and the District of Columbia. Sportfishing is of major economic interest, however, the rivers within the watershed provide numerous other ecological, recreational, cultural and economic benefits, as well as serving as a drinking water source for millions of people. Consequently, major fish kills and the subsequent finding of estrogenic endocrine disruption (intersex or testicular oocytes and plasma vitellogenin in male fishes) raised public and management concerns. Studies have occurred at various sites within the Bay watershed to document the extent and severity of endocrine disruption, identify risk factors and document temporal and spatial variability. Data from these focal studies, which began in 2004, were used in CART (classification and regression trees) analyses to better identify land use associations and potential management practices that influence estrogenic endocrine disruption. These analyses emphasized the importance of scale (immediate versus upstream catchment) and the complex mixtures of stressors which can contribute to surface water estrogenicity and the associated adverse effects of exposure. Both agricultural (percent cultivated, pesticide application, phytoestrogen cover crops) and developed (population density, road density, impervious surface) land cover showed positive relationships to estrogenic indicators, while percent forest and shrubs generally had a negative association. The findings can serve as a baseline for assessing ongoing restoration and management practices.