A biomonitoring tool to identify and quantify the impacts of fine sediment in river and stream ecosystems

  • Matthew Turley

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


In rivers and streams, fine sediment pollution is one of the most commonly attributed causes of ecological degradation. As fine sediment is also an important natural component of these ecosystems, and is variable both temporally and spatially, setting environmental targets and using conventional monitoring to determine where fine sediment is causing ecological degradation, is a complex challenge. An alternative approach is the use of biomonitoring tools, which utilise biota to gauge and track changes in the environment. This thesis examines the current state of sedimentbiomonitoring, considers the numerous theoretical and methodological decisions made during tool development, and applies a best practice approach to the development and testing of a sediment-specific tool. An existing biological index, which utilises knowledge of biological and ecological traits, is used as a basis for this development, following an evaluation of its performance over 835 minimally impacted temperate river and stream sites. The index is further developed using empirical data to assign indicator weights to individual taxa. The resulting index, the Empirically-weighted Proportion of Sediment-sensitive Invertebrates (E-PSI) index had moderate to strong correlations with fine sediment in independent test datasets of minimally (n = 84) (family-level: rs = -0.72; mixed-level: rs = -0.70; p < 0.01) and agriculturally impacted sites (n = 754) (family-level: rs = -0.68, p < 0.01). The E-PSI index has retained a biological basis, is easily integrated into regulatory agency protocols, and can be applied retrospectively to historic datasets. Despite the improved performance, a high amount of variation was observed between E-PSI and fine sediment cover. This is likely the result of the presence of multiple pressures, uncertainties concerning sediment-biota interactions, and the relatively low precision of sediment quantification techniques. Due to the prevalence of freshwater non-native invasive species, the effects of North American signal crayfish (Pacifastacus leniusculus) invasions on sediment- biomonitoring and fine sediment are also investigated. Additionally, given the subjective nature and lack of representativeness of many existing sediment quantification techniques, a novel, more objective, verifiable, and non-destructive method is developed and presented as “proof of concept”. This thesis contributes significantly to the literature concerning biomonitoring tool development and testing, and has resulted in a sediment-specific index that has a stronger correlation with its specific pressure, than the average biomonitoring tool used throughout Europe. The E-PSI index can be used alongside a suite of other biomonitoring tools, to identify the most likely causes of ecological degradation, and inform more targeted monitoring.
Date of AwardOct 2017
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Brighton

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