, Volume 633, Issue 1, pp 5–15 | Cite as

Uncertainty in ecological status assessments of lakes and rivers using diatoms

  • Martyn KellyEmail author
  • Helen Bennion
  • Amy Burgess
  • Julian Ellis
  • Steve Juggins
  • Robin Guthrie
  • Jane Jamieson
  • Veronique Adriaenssens
  • Marian Yallop


The EU’s Water Framework Directive requires all surface water bodies to be classified according to their ecological status. As biological communities show both spatial and temporal heterogeneity, expressions of ecological status will, inevitably, have an element of uncertainty associated with them. A consequence of this environmental heterogeneity is that there is a risk that status inferred from one or more samples is different to the true status of that water body. In order to quantify the scale of temporal uncertainty associated with benthic diatoms, replicate samples were collected from sites across the ecological status gradient in lakes and rivers in the UK. Variability (expressed as standard deviation of temporal replicate samples from a single site) could be described using a polynomial function and this was then used to calculate the risk of placing a water body in the wrong ecological status class. This risk varied depending on the distance from the class boundaries and the number of replicates. Based on these data, we recommend that ecological status is determined from a number of samples collected from a site over a period of time.


Water Framework Directive Diatoms Uncertainty Ecological status Phytobenthos 



Thanks to Heike Hirst, Sarah Pritchard and Gayle Reddihough for help with sample collection and to Herman van Dam and an anonymous reviewer for comments on a draft manuscript. This work was largely funded by the Environment Agency of England and Wales and SNIFFER (Scotland and Northern Ireland Forum for Environmental Research. MK, SJ, HB and MY thank their respective institutions for time and resources to continue the work beyond the end of the project. This article does not necessarily represent the final or policy positions of the UK WFD Technical Advisory Group or any of its partner agencies.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  • Martyn Kelly
    • 1
    Email author
  • Helen Bennion
    • 2
  • Amy Burgess
    • 2
  • Julian Ellis
    • 3
  • Steve Juggins
    • 4
  • Robin Guthrie
    • 5
  • Jane Jamieson
    • 6
  • Veronique Adriaenssens
    • 6
  • Marian Yallop
    • 7
  1. 1.Bowburn ConsultancyBowburnUK
  2. 2.Environmental Change Research Centre, Department of GeographyUniversity College LondonLondonUK
  3. 3.Water Research Centre SwindonUK
  4. 4.School of Geography, Politics & SociologyUniversity of NewcastleNewcastleUK
  5. 5.SEPAPerthUK
  6. 6.Environmental Biology Group, Environment AgencyBristolUK
  7. 7.School of Biological SciencesUniversity of BristolBristolUK

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