Streams, rivers or lakes with sediments polluted with heavy metals, pesticides, PCB’s, PAH’s, radionuclides, or a combination of these, contain a community of non-biting midges (Insecta, Nematocera: Chironomidae) in which some benthic species show a higher occurrence of morphologically deformed larvae than in control sites. The ontogeny and potential epigenetical character of deformities are discussed, whereby the distinction between deformities and mechanical damage is illustrated with SEM photographs. Quantification of effects and field exposure are shortly reviewed, together with studies aiming at inducing deformities in experimental manipulations. Studies comparing deformed and normal co-existing larvae for bioaccumulation and parameters of condition, behaviour and detoxification are integrated in a more holistic concept. We point out that the deformity method as a tool for biomonitoring of suspected sediments has good potential both in the industrialised and the developing world.
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