, Volume 572, Issue 1, pp 171-194
Date: 31 Mar 2006

Taxonomic Resolution and Quantification of Freshwater Macroinvertebrate Samples from an Australian Dryland River: The Benefits and Costs of Using Species Abundance Data

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In studies using macroinvertebrates as indicators for monitoring rivers and streams, species level identifications in comparison with lower resolution identifications can have greater information content and result in more reliable site classifications and better capacity to discriminate between sites, yet many such programmes identify specimens to the resolution of family rather than species. This is often because it is cheaper to obtain family level data than species level data. Choice of appropriate taxonomic resolution is a compromise between the cost of obtaining data at high taxonomic resolutions and the loss of information at lower resolutions. Optimum taxonomic resolution should be determined by the information required to address programme objectives. Costs saved in identifying macroinvertebrates to family level may not be justified if family level data can not give the answers required and expending the extra cost to obtain species level data may not be warranted if cheaper family level data retains sufficient information to meet objectives. We investigated the influence of taxonomic resolution and sample quantification (abundance vs. presence/absence) on the representation of aquatic macroinvertebrate species assemblage patterns and species richness estimates. The study was conducted in a physically harsh dryland river system (Condamine-Balonne River system, located in south-western Queensland, Australia), characterised by low macroinvertebrate diversity. Our 29 study sites covered a wide geographic range and a diversity of lotic conditions and this was reflected by differences between sites in macroinvertebrate assemblage composition and richness. The usefulness of expending the extra cost necessary to identify macroinvertebrates to species was quantified via the benefits this higher resolution data offered in its capacity to discriminate between sites and give accurate estimates of site species richness. We found that very little information (<6%) was lost by identifying taxa to family (or genus), as opposed to species, and that quantifying the abundance of taxa provided greater resolution for pattern interpretation than simply noting their presence/absence. Species richness was very well represented by genus, family and order richness, so that each of these could be used as surrogates of species richness if, for example, surveying to identify diversity hot-spots. It is suggested that sharing of common ecological responses among species within higher taxonomic units is the most plausible mechanism for the results. Based on a cost/benefit analysis, family level abundance data is recommended as the best resolution for resolving patterns in macroinvertebrate assemblages in this system. The relevance of these findings are discussed in the context of other low diversity, harsh, dryland river systems.