Wastewater treatment plant contaminant profiles affect macroinvertebrate sludge degradation

Tom V. van der Meer*, Piet F.M. Verdonschot, Lisa van Eck, Dominique M. Narain-Ford, Michiel H.S. Kraak

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

4 Citations (Scopus)


Disposal of the overwhelming amounts of excess wastewater treatment plant (WWTP) sludge is an increasing financial and environmental problem, and new methods to reduce the amount of excess sludge are therefore required. In the natural environment, interactions between multiple macroinvertebrate detritivores mediate the degradation of organic matter. Macroinvertebrates may thus also be able to degrade WWTP sludge, but may meanwhile be impacted by the associated contaminants. Therefore, the aim of the present study was to examine if WWTPs contaminant concentrations and profiles affect the biotic interactions and macroinvertebrate mediated degradation of sludge. Assessing degradation of sludge from three WWTPs differing in contaminant profile by (combinations of) three macroinvertebrate detritovore taxa, revealed that macroinvertebrate enhanced sludge degradation was WWTP and taxa combination specific. Yet, taxa combinations only had an additional positive effect on sludge degradation when compared to single taxa in sludge with a higher contaminant load. This was confirmed by the results of a Cu-spiked sludge degradation experiment, indicating a possible effect of biotic interactions. It was concluded that macroinvertebrates are a potential tool for the reduction of excess WWTP sludge, and that using multispecies assemblages of detritivorous macroinvertebrates may increase the resilience of this additional treatment step.

Original languageEnglish
Article number118863
JournalWater Research
Publication statusPublished - 15 Aug 2022


  • Biotic interactions
  • Excess sludge
  • Macroinvertebrates
  • Stress gradient hypothesis
  • Waste treatment plants


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