Environmental Monitoring and Assessment

, Volume 151, Issue 1–4, pp 143–160 | Cite as

Predicting the biological condition of streams: use of geospatial indicators of natural and anthropogenic characteristics of watersheds

  • Daren M. Carlisle
  • James Falcone
  • Michael R. Meador


We developed and evaluated empirical models to predict biological condition of wadeable streams in a large portion of the eastern USA, with the ultimate goal of prediction for unsampled basins. Previous work had classified (i.e., altered vs. unaltered) the biological condition of 920 streams based on a biological assessment of macroinvertebrate assemblages. Predictor variables were limited to widely available geospatial data, which included land cover, topography, climate, soils, societal infrastructure, and potential hydrologic modification. We compared the accuracy of predictions of biological condition class based on models with continuous and binary responses. We also evaluated the relative importance of specific groups and individual predictor variables, as well as the relationships between the most important predictors and biological condition. Prediction accuracy and the relative importance of predictor variables were different for two subregions for which models were created. Predictive accuracy in the highlands region improved by including predictors that represented both natural and human activities. Riparian land cover and road-stream intersections were the most important predictors. In contrast, predictive accuracy in the lowlands region was best for models limited to predictors representing natural factors, including basin topography and soil properties. Partial dependence plots revealed complex and nonlinear relationships between specific predictors and the probability of biological alteration. We demonstrate a potential application of the model by predicting biological condition in 552 unsampled basins across an ecoregion in southeastern Wisconsin (USA). Estimates of the likelihood of biological condition of unsampled streams could be a valuable tool for screening large numbers of basins to focus targeted monitoring of potentially unaltered or altered stream segments.


Biological assessment Predictive models Random forests Geospatial data Spatial scale 


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  • Daren M. Carlisle
    • 1
  • James Falcone
    • 1
  • Michael R. Meador
    • 1
  1. 1.National Water-Quality Assessment ProgramUS Geological SurveyRestonUSA

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