Landscape Ecology

, Volume 11, Issue 3, pp 141–156

Landscape influences on stream biotic integrity assessed at multiple spatial scales


  • Nancy E. Roth
    • School of Natural Resources and EnvironmentThe University of Michigan
  • J. David Allan
    • School of Natural Resources and EnvironmentThe University of Michigan
  • Donna L. Erickson
    • School of Natural Resources and EnvironmentThe University of Michigan

DOI: 10.1007/BF02447513

Cite this article as:
Roth, N.E., Allan, J.D. & Erickson, D.L. Landscape Ecol (1996) 11: 141. doi:10.1007/BF02447513


The biological integrity of stream ecosystems depends critically on human activities that affect land use/cover along stream margins and possibly throughout the catchment. We evaluated stream condition using an Index of Biotic Integrity (IBI) and a habitat index (HI), and compared these measures to landscape and riparian conditions assessed at different spatial scales in a largely agricultural Midwestern watershed. Our goal was to determine whether land use/cover was an effective predictor of stream integrity, and if so, at what spatial scale. Twenty-three sites in first-through third-order headwater streams were surveyed by electrofishing and site IBIs were calculated based on ten metrics of the fish collection. Habitat features were characterized through field observation, and site HIs calculated from nine instream and bank metrics. Field surveys, aerial photograph interpretation, and geographic information system (GIS) analyses provided assessments of forested land and other vegetation covers at the local, reach, and regional (catchment) scales.

The range of conditions among the 23 sites varied from poor to very good based on IBI and HI scores, and habitat and fish assemblage measures were highly correlated. Stream biotic integrity and habitat quality were negatively correlated with the extent of agriculture and positively correlated with extent of wetlands and forest. Correlations were strongest at the catchment scale (IBI with % area as agriculture, r2=0.50, HI with agriculture, r2=0.76), and tended to become weak and non-significant at local scales. Local riparian vegetation was a weak secondary predictor of stream integrity. In this watershed, regional land use is the primary determinant of stream conditions, able to overwhelm the ability of local site vegetation to support high-quality habitat and biotic communities.

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© SPB Academic Publishing bv 1996