, Volume 566, Issue 1, pp 477-503

Estimates and comparisons of the effects of sampling variation using ‘national’ macroinvertebrate sampling protocols on the precision of metrics used to assess ecological status

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Abstract

The Water Framework Directive (WFD) of the European Union requires all member countries to provide information on the level of confidence and precision of results in their river monitoring programmes to assess the ecological status class of river sites. As part of the European Union project STAR, the overall effects of sampling variation for a wide range of commonly used metrics and sampling methods were assessed. Replicate samples were taken in each of two seasons at 2–6 sites of varying ecological status class within each of 18 stream types spread over 12 countries, using both the STAR-AQEM method and a national sampling method or, where unavailable, the RIVPACS sampling protocol. The sampling precision of a combination of sampling method and metric was estimated by expressing the replicate sampling variance as a percentage P samp of the total variance in metric values with a stream type; low values of P samp indicate high precision. Most metrics had percentage sampling variances less than 20% for all or most stream types and methods. Most national methods including RIVPACS had sampling precisions at least as good as those for the STAR-AQEM method as used in their country at the same sites; the main exceptions were the national methods used in Latvia and Sweden. The national methods used in the Czech Republic, Denmark, France, Poland and the RIVPACS method used in the UK and Austria all had percentage sampling variances of less than 10% for the majority of metrics assessed. In contrast, none of the metrics had percentage sampling variances less than 10% when based on either the Italian (IBE) method, which used bank-side sorting, or the Latvian national method which identifies only a limited set of taxa. P samp was lowest on average for the two stream types sampled in the Czech Republic using either the PERLA national method or the STAR-AQEM method. Averaged over all stream types and methods, the three Saprobic-based metrics had the lowest average percentage sampling variances (3–6%) amongst the 26 metrics assessed. These estimates of sampling standard deviation can be used to help assess the uncertainty in single or multi-metric systems for estimating site ecological status using the general STAR Bioassessment Guidance Software (STARBUGS) developed within the STAR project.