, Volume 124, Issue 1-3, pp 141-156
Date: 01 Aug 2006

Biological Integrity in Mid-Atlantic Coastal Plains Headwater Streams

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Abstract

The objective of this study was to assess the applicability of using landscape variables in conjunction with water quality and benthic data to efficiently estimate stream condition of select headwater streams in the Mid-Atlantic Coastal Plains. Eighty-two streams with riffle sites were selected from eight-two independent watersheds across the region for sampling and analyses. Clustering of the watersheds by landscape resulted in three distinct groups (forest, crop, and urban) which coincided with watersheds dominant land cover or use. We used non-parametric analyses to test differences in benthos and water chemistry between groups, and used regression analyses to evaluate responses of benthic communities to water chemistry within each of the landscape groups. We found that typical water chemistry measures associated with urban runoff such as specific conductance and dissolved chloride were significantly higher in the urban group. In the crop group, we found variables commonly associated with farming such as nutrients and pesticides significantly greater than in the other two groups. Regression analyses demonstrated that the numbers of tolerant and facultative macroinvertebrates increased significantly in forested watersheds with small shifts in pollutants, while in human use dominated watersheds the intolerant macroinvertebrates were more sensitive to shifts in chemicals present at lower concentrations. The results from this study suggest that landscape based clustering can be used to link upstream landscape characteristics, water chemistry and biotic integrity in order to assess stream condition and likely cause of degradation without the use of reference sites. Notice: Although this work was reviewed by EPA and approved for publication, it may not necessarily reflect official Agency policy.