Detecting human impacts on riverine systems is challenging because of the diverse biological, chemical, hydrological and geophysical components that must be assessed. We briefly review the chemical, biotic, hydrologic and physical habitat assessment approaches commonly used in riverine systems. We then discuss how landscape indicators can be used to assess the status of rivers by quantifying land cover changes in the surrounding catchment, and contrast landscape-level indicators with the more traditionally used approaches. Landscape metrics that describe the amount and arrangement of human-altered land in a catchment provide a direct way to measure human impacts and can be correlated with many traditionally used riverine indicators, such as water chemistry and biotic variables. The spatial pattern of riparian habitats may also be an especially powerful landscape indicator because the variation in length, width, and gaps of riparian buffers influences their effectiveness as nutrient sinks. The width of riparian buffers is also related to the diversity of riparian bird species. Landscape indicators incorporating historical land use may also hold promise for predicting and assessing the status of riverine systems. Importantly, the relationship between an aquatic system attribute and a landscape indicator may be non-linear and thus exhibit threshold responses. This has become especially apparent from landscape indicators quantifying the percent impervious surface (or urban areas) in a watershed, a landscape indicator of hydrologic and geomorphic change.
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