Environmental Science and Pollution Research

, Volume 26, Issue 10, pp 10251–10262 | Cite as

River health assessment of the Yellow River source region, Qinghai-Tibetan Plateau, China, based on tolerance values of macroinvertebrates

  • Wei Liu
  • Mengzhen XuEmail author
  • Na Zhao
  • Xiongdong Zhou
  • Baozhu Pan
  • Shimin Tian
  • Fakai Lei
Research Article


For decades, the river health of the Yellow River source region (YRSR) on the Qinghai-Tibetan Plateau has been a focal issue owing to its unique geographic location and ecological functions. This study investigated the ecological status of the headwater streams, the main stem, and the tributaries of the Yellow River in the YRSR using the tolerance values of macroinvertebrates and those related to biotic indices. The macroinvertebrate assemblages of the headwater streams were characterized by lower biodiversity than the tributaries downstream, based on comparisons of taxonomical composition, functional feeding group composition, and the pollution-tolerant capacity of taxa. The headwater streams had a lower ratio (16%) of pollution-sensitive macroinvertebrate taxa than that of the tributaries downstream (30%). The biotic indices (family- and genus-level biotic indices) indicated that the ecological health of the headwater streams was comparably poorer than that of the downstream tributaries. The combined effect of vulnerable natural conditions and increasing human disturbance is likely the main cause of eco-environmental degradation in the Yellow River headwater streams.


Yellow River source region Qinghai-Tibetan Plateau River health Macroinvertebrates Tolerance values Biotic index Water quality 



We thank the editor Dr. Philippe Garrigues and the two anonymous reviewers for their review comments that significantly strengthened the paper.

Funding information

The study was financially supported by the National Science Fund China (91547204, 51779120, 51622901), the National Key Research and Development Program of China (2016YFC0402407, 2016YFC0402406), Tsinghua University Project (2015THZ02-1), State Key Laboratory of Hydroscience and Engineering Project (2016-KY-04), and the Yellow River Institute of Hydraulic Research (HKY-JBYW-2016-03).


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Wei Liu
    • 1
  • Mengzhen Xu
    • 1
    Email author
  • Na Zhao
    • 2
  • Xiongdong Zhou
    • 1
  • Baozhu Pan
    • 3
  • Shimin Tian
    • 4
  • Fakai Lei
    • 1
  1. 1.State Key Laboratory of Hydroscience and EngineeringTsinghua UniversityBeijingChina
  2. 2.College of Agricultural Equipment EngineeringHenan University of Science and TechnologyLuoyangChina
  3. 3.State Key Laboratory of Eco-hydraulics in Northwest Arid Region of ChinaXi’an University of TechnologyXi’anChina
  4. 4.Key Laboratory of Yellow River Sediment, MWRInstitute of Hydraulic Research, YRCCZhengzhouChina

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