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Benthic Invertebrate Indices Show No Response to High Nitrate-Nitrogen in Lowland Agricultural Streams

Abstract

Globally benthic invertebrate biotic indices are widely used to assess stream health. In New Zealand, the response of biotic indices to high nitrate-nitrogen (hereafter nitrate) concentrations has not been rigorously tested. We conducted a field survey of benthic invertebrates in 41 lowland intensively farmed Canterbury streams representing a wide nitrate gradient (0.4–11.3 mg/l) to determine if biotic indices respond in a predictable manner to increasing nitrate (e.g. show a subsidy stress response). Our results show commonly used biotic indices were not able to detect any effects of high nitrate. We found homogenous and tolerant benthic invertebrate communities dominated and suggest the lack of any detected effects may be because taxa sensitive to nutrients have already been lost from these systems. Therefore, we recommend caution is needed when using biotic indices in lowland agricultural streams where nutrients may be high.

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Acknowledgements

The authors thank Elizabeth Graham and anonymous reviewers for valuable feedback to improve the quality of the manuscript, along with Hayley Devlin and Nixie Boddy for field work assistance, and Linda Morris, Kim Roberts and Jon O’Brien for laboratory assistance.

Funding

This project was funded by a grant from the Mackenzie Charitable Foundation as part of the Canterbury Waterways Rehabilitation Experiment. TM was supported by an Environment Canterbury Postgraduate Scholarship.

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Moore, T.P., Febria, C.M., McIntosh, A.R. et al. Benthic Invertebrate Indices Show No Response to High Nitrate-Nitrogen in Lowland Agricultural Streams. Water Air Soil Pollut 232, 263 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11270-021-05169-1

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Keywords

  • Biotic homogenisation
  • Environmental management
  • Nutrients
  • Ecological indicators
  • Pollution