Anthropogenic modifications of sediment load can cause ecological degradation in stream and river ecosystems. However, in practice, identifying when and where sediment is the primary cause of ecological degradation is a challenging task. Biological communities undergo natural cycles and variation over time, and respond to a range of physical, chemical and biological pressures. Furthermore, fine sediments are commonly associated with numerous other pressures that are likely to influence aquatic biota. The use of conventional, non-biological monitoring to attribute cause and effect would necessitate measurement of multiple parameters, at sufficient temporal resolution, and for a significant period of time. Biomonitoring tools, which use low-frequency measurements of biota to gauge and track changes in the environment, can provide a valuable alternative means to detecting the effects of a given pressure. In this study, we develop and test an improved macroinvertebrate, family-level and mixed-level biomonitoring tool for fine sediment. Biologically-based classifications of sediment sensitivity were supplemented by using empirical data of macroinvertebrate abundance and percentage fine sediment, collected across a wide range of temperate river and stream ecosystems (model training datasetn=2252) to assign detailed individual sensitivity weights to taxa. An optimum set of weights were identified by non-linear optimisation, as those that resulted in the highest Spearman’s rank correlation coefficient between the index (called the Empirically-weighted Proportion of Sediment-sensitive Invertebrates index; E-PSI) scores and deposited fine sediment in the model training dataset. The family and mixed-level tools performed similarly, with correlations with percentage fine sediment in the test dataset (n=84) ofrs=−0.72 andrs=−0.70p<0.01. Testing of the best performing family level version, over agriculturally impacted sites (n=754) showed similar correlations to fine sediment (rs=−0.68p<0.01). The tools developed in this study have retained their biological basis, are easily integrated into contemporary monitoring agency protocols and can be applied retrospectively to historic datasets. Given the challenges of non-biological conventional monitoring of fine sediments and determining the biological relevance of the resulting data, a sediment-specific biomonitoring approach is highly desirable and will be a useful addition to the suite of pressure-specific biomonitoring tools currently used to infer the causes of ecological degradation.
Bibliographical note© 2016 The Authors. Published by Elsevier Ltd. This is an open access article under the CC BY license (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/).
- Biotic index
- Deposited fine sediments