Biodiversity and Conservation

, Volume 16, Issue 9, pp 2695–2713 | Cite as

Assessing Riparian Quality Using Two Complementary Sets of Bioindicators

  • Jenny Smith
  • Michael J. Samways
  • Stuart Taylor
Original Paper


Biological indicators are being increasingly used to rapidly monitor changing river quality. Among these bioindicators are macroinvertebrates. A short-coming of macroinvertebrate rapid assessments is that they use higher taxa, and therefore lack taxonomic resolution and species-specific responses. One subset of invertebrate taxa is the Odonata, which as adults, are sensitive indicators of both riparian and river conditions. Yet adult Odonata are not necessarily an umbrella taxon for all other taxa. Therefore, we investigated whether the two metrics of aquatic macroinvertebrate higher taxa and adult odonate species might complement each other, and whether together they provide better clarity on river health and integrity than one subset alone. Results indicated that both metrics provide a similar portrait of large-scale, overall river conditions. At the smaller spatial scale of parts of rivers, Odonata were highly sensitive to riparian vegetation, and much more so than macroinvertebrate higher taxa. Odonate species were more sensitive to vegetation structure than they were to vegetation composition. Landscape context is also important, with the odonate assemblages at point localities being affected by the neighbouring dominant habitat type. Overall, benthic macroinvertebrates and adult Odonata species provide a highly complementary pair of metrics which together provide large spatial scale (river system) and small spatial scale (point localities) information on the impact of stressors such as riparian invasive alien trees. As adult Odonata are easy to sample and are sensitive to disturbance at both small and large spatial scales, they are valuable indicators for rapid assessment of river condition and riparian quality.


Riparian ecosystems Bioindicators Benthic macroinvertebrates Adult Odonata Complementarity 


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Financial support was from the Working for Water Programme.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2006

Authors and Affiliations

  • Jenny Smith
    • 1
  • Michael J. Samways
    • 2
  • Stuart Taylor
    • 2
  1. 1.School of Botany and ZoologyUniversity of KwaZulu-NatalPietermaritzburgSouth Africa
  2. 2.Department of Conservation Ecology and Entomology and Centre for Agricultural BiodiversityUniversity of StellenboschMatielandSouth Africa

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