, Volume 122, Issue 1-3, pp 239-258
Date: 13 Jun 2006

A Fish-Based Index of Biotic Integrity to Assess Intermittent Headwater Streams in Wisconsin, USA

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I developed a fish-based index of biotic integrity (IBI) to assess environmental quality in intermittent headwater streams in Wisconsin, USA. Backpack electrofishing and habitat surveys were conducted four times on 102 small (watershed area 1.7–41.5 km2), cool or warmwater (maximum daily mean water temperature ≥22 C), headwater streams in spring and late summer/fall 2000 and 2001. Despite seasonal and annual changes in stream flow and habitat volume, there were few significant temporal trends in fish attributes. Analysis of 36 least-impacted streams indicated that fish were too scarce to calculate an IBI at stations with watershed areas less than 4 km2 or at stations with watershed areas from 4–10 km2 if stream gradient exceeded 10 m/km (1% slope). For streams with sufficient fish, potential fish attributes (metrics) were not related to watershed size or gradient. Seven metrics distinguished among streams with low, agricultural, and urban human impacts: numbers of native, minnow (Cyprinidae), headwater-specialist, and intolerant (to environmental degradation) species; catches of all fish excluding species tolerant of environmental degradation and of brook stickleback (Culaea inconstans) per 100 m stream length; and percentage of total individuals with deformities, eroded fins, lesions, or tumors. These metrics were used in the final IBI, which ranged from 0 (worst) to 100 (best). The IBI accurately assessed the environmental quality of 16 randomly chosen streams not used in index development. Temporal variation in IBI scores in the absence of changes in environmental quality was not related to season, year, or type of human impact and was similar in magnitude to variation reported for other IBI's.