Assessing benthic community condition in Chesapeake Bay: does the use of different benthic indices matter?
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Federal and state environmental agencies conduct several programs to characterize the environmental condition of Chesapeake Bay. These programs use different benthic indices and survey designs, and have produced assessments that differ in the estimate of the extent of benthic community degradation in Chesapeake Bay. Provided that the survey designs are unbiased, differences may exist in the ability of these indices to identify environmental degradation. In this study we compared the results of three indices calculated on the same data, and the assessments of two programs: the Chesapeake Bay Program and the Mid-Atlantic Integrated Assessment (MAIA). We examined the level of agreement of index results using site-based measures of agreement, evaluated sampling designs and statistical estimation methods, and tested for significant differences in assessments. Comparison of ratings of individual sites was done within separate categories of water and sediment quality to identify which indices summarize best pollution problems in Chesapeake Bay. The use of different benthic indices by these programs produced assessments that differed significantly in the estimate of degradation. A larger fraction of poor sites was classified as good by the Environmental Monitoring and Assessment Program’s Virginian Province and MAIA benthic indices compared to the Chesapeake Bay benthic index of biotic integrity, although overall classification efficiencies were similar for all indices. Differences in survey design also contributed to differences in assessments. The relative difference between the indices remained the same when they were applied to an independent dataset, suggesting that the indices can be calibrated to produce consistent results.
KeywordsBenthic communities Benthic index Benthic index of biotic integrity Biological indicators Chesapeake Bay Comparison of methods Degradation
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