Linkages Between Nutrients and Assemblages of Macroinvertebrates and Fish in Wadeable Streams: Implication to Nutrient Criteria Development

Abstract

We sampled 240 wadeable streams across Wisconsin for different forms of phosphorus and nitrogen, and assemblages of macroinvertebrates and fish to (1) examine how macroinvertebrate and fish measures correlated with the nutrients; (2) quantify relationships between key biological measures and nutrient forms to identify potential threshold levels of nutrients to support nutrient criteria development; and (3) evaluate the importance of nutrients in influencing biological assemblages relative to other physicochemical factors at different spatial scales. Twenty-three of the 35 fish and 18 of the 26 macroinvertebrate measures significantly correlated (P < 0.05) with at least one nutrient measure. Percentages of carnivorous, intolerant, and omnivorous fishes, index of biotic integrity, and salmonid abundance were fish measures correlated with the most nutrient measures and had the highest correlation coefficients. Percentages of Ephemeroptera–Plecoptera–Trichoptera individuals and taxa, Hilsenhoff biotic index, and mean tolerance value were macroinvertebrate measures that most strongly correlated with the most nutrient measures. Selected biological measures showed clear trends toward degradation as concentrations of phosphorus and nitrogen increased, and some measures showed clear thresholds where biological measures changed drastically with small changes in nutrient concentrations. Our selected environmental factors explained 54% of the variation in the fish assemblages. Of this explained variance, 46% was attributed to catchment and instream habitat, 15% to nutrients, 3% to other water quality measures, and 36% to the interactions among all the environmental variables. Selected environmental factors explained 53% of the variation in macroinvertebrate assemblages. Of this explained variance, 42% was attributed to catchment and instream habitat, 22% to nutrients, 5% to other water quality measures, and 32% to the interactions among all the environmental variables.

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Acknowledgments

We thank Roger Bannerman and James Baumann for their leadership and assistance in all phases of this study; Dave Graczyk and many seasonal helpers for collecting the water quality samples; Paul Kanehl and many seasonal helpers for collecting the fish and macroinvertebrate samples; Stanley Szczyko and Jeffrey Dimick for identifying the macroinvertebrate samples; James Kennedy and David Saad for delineating catchment boundaries and gathering landscape data; and Arthur Cooper and Jihong Meng for preparing the figures. Steven Heiskary, Walter Dodds, and an anonymous reviewer provided comments that substantially improved the manuscript. This project was partially funded by Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (WDNR) Bureau of Watershed Management through contracts with U.S. Geological Survey and WDNR Bureau of Integrated Science Services, Fisheries and Habitat Research. This article was prepared with the support of service in-kind by the Institute for Fisheries Research, Michigan Department of Natural Resources.

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Correspondence to Lizhu Wang.

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Wang, L., Robertson, D.M. & Garrison, P.J. Linkages Between Nutrients and Assemblages of Macroinvertebrates and Fish in Wadeable Streams: Implication to Nutrient Criteria Development. Environmental Management 39, 194–212 (2007). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00267-006-0135-8

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Keywords

  • Nutrient criteria
  • Nutrient ecoregion
  • Threshold
  • Disturbance
  • Nutrient–fish relation
  • Nutrient–macroinvertebrate relation