Recently there has been increasing concern over the vast array of emerging organic contaminants (EOCs) detected in streams and rivers worldwide. Understanding of the ecological implications of these compounds is limited to local scale case studies, partly as a result of technical limitations and a lack of integrative analyses. Here, we apply state-of-the-art instrumentation to analyze a complex suite of EOCs in the streambed of 30 UK streams and their effect on streambed communities. We apply the abundance–body mass (N–M) relationship approach as an integrative metric of the deviation of natural communities from reference status as a result of EOC pollution. Our analysis includes information regarding the N and M for individual prokaryotes, unicellular flagellates and ciliates, meiofauna, and macroinvertebrates. We detect a strong significant dependence of the N–M relationship coefficients with the presence of EOCs in the system, to the point of shielding the effect of other important environmental factors such as temperature, pH, and productivity. However, contrary to other stressors, EOC pollution showed a positive effect on the N–M coefficient in our work. This phenomenon can be largely explained by the increase in large-size tolerant taxa under polluted conditions. We discuss the potential implications of these results in relation to bioaccumulation and biomagnification processes. Our findings shed light on the impact of EOCs on the organization and ecology of the whole streambed community for the first time.
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