Water, Air, & Soil Pollution

, Volume 214, Issue 1–4, pp 409–421 | Cite as

Ecosystem Structure and Function are Complementary Measures of Water Quality in a Polluted, Spring-Influenced River

  • Jessica M. HopkinsEmail author
  • Amy M. Marcarelli
  • Heather A. Bechtold


We tested how ecosystem structure (macroinvertebrate community and primary producers) and functions (leaf decay and open-water metabolism) are related to water quality in the Portneuf River, southeast Idaho. This river is polluted with excess nutrients and fine sediment and simultaneously demonstrates a range of hydrologic conditions due to a variety of groundwater and spring inputs. Macroinvertebrate abundance, functional feeding group composition, and diversity responded most to hydrology due to affinity of the invasive New Zealand mudsnail for spring-influenced conditions. Macrophytes were most abundant at spring-influenced sites, while benthic periphyton standing crop was highest at sites with highest nutrient concentrations. Leaf decay rates increased by 50% at spring-influenced sites and showed no response to 3–100-fold differences in nutrient concentrations. Finally, primary production measured via open-water metabolism was highest at spring-influenced sites, which tended to have low turbidity. Community respiration, however, was greatest at the site with the highest nutrient concentrations. Therefore, open-water metabolism was a useful indicator of water quality in this nutrient-polluted river, while invertebrate community structure and leaf decay did not reflect large differences in water quality among sites. Our findings suggest that structure and function metrics provide complementary information on biotic responses to water pollution and that these metrics should be used in concert to more fully understand and monitor biotic responses to water pollution and hydrologic alterations in streams and rivers.


Ecosystem structure Ecosystem function Macroinvertebrate community Leaf decay Open-water metabolism 



This work was funded by the NSF-Idaho EPSCoR program (EPS 04-47689) and the Idaho Department of Environmental Quality (EPA X7-96009701). Collaborators at the Idaho DEQ (G. Mladenka, M. Rowe, and A. Ray) and Idaho State University (R. Inouye, G. W. Minshall, and C. Baxter) provided valuable guidance, discussion, and field assistance for this project. R. Clay, M. Inouye, S. Mathies, M. Mineau, A. Rugenski, A. Ruiz, M. Thompson, and C. Waite provided field and/or lab assistance. J. Anderson provided cartographic services for Fig. 1. An earlier version of this manuscript was improved by reviews from C. Baxter, G. W. Minshall, A. Ray, F. Moore, and one anonymous reviewer. The chemistry and sonde data were collected as part of the Portneuf Basin Monitoring Program and is supported by the Center for Ecological Research and Education at Idaho State University, the City of Pocatello, J. R. Simplot Company, the Portneuf Soil and Water Conservation District, the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes, Three Rivers RC&D Council Inc., the United States Environmental Protection Agency, Rapid Creek Research Inc., and the Idaho Departments of Agriculture, Environmental Quality, and Fish and Game.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  • Jessica M. Hopkins
    • 1
    • 2
    Email author
  • Amy M. Marcarelli
    • 3
    • 4
  • Heather A. Bechtold
    • 3
  1. 1.Stream Ecology Center, Department of Biological SciencesIdaho State UniversityPocatelloUSA
  2. 2.Department of BiologyThe University of AkronAkronUSA
  3. 3.Center for Ecological Research and Education, Department of Biological SciencesIdaho State UniversityPocatelloUSA
  4. 4.Department of Biological SciencesMichigan Technological UniversityHoughtonUSA

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