Evaluating the habitat integrity index as a potential surrogate for monitoring the water quality of streams in the cerrado-caatinga ecotone in northern Brazil

Abstract

Human activities have long been altering the natural conditions of streams, including the quality of their water, throughout most of Brazil. This problem is even worse in regions with low rainfall levels, such as the Brazilian Northeast, where water quality needs to be monitored more carefully. In this context, the present study investigated the effects of environmental integrity on the physicochemical characteristics of the streams of the basin of the Itapecuru River in northeastern Brazil. We tested the hypothesis that streams with lower habitat integrity would have higher conductivity, pH, and temperature, due to the reduced input of allochthonous organic matter and the greater washout of sediments to the stream bed. A total of 15 streams, of a sedimentary basin, were evaluated in the municipality of Caxias, in the Brazilian state of Maranhão, between June 2015, and July 2016; each stream was sampled once a month during the drought period in the region, where physicochemical measurements were taken to determine the environmental integrity of the stream through the application of a habitat integrity index. Streams with greater habitat integrity had lower conductivity, pH, and temperature and had higher discharge rates. The index proved to be not an effective tool for the evaluation of water quality, but was found to be important for the management of hydrographic basins by indicating important changes in environmental variables. In this case, the index can be used primarily for the management of hydrographic basins, given that it can be applied straightforwardly, it can be interpreted easily by decision-makers, and it can quantify alterations to the structure of the system with precision.

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Funding

Grants were also received from the National Council for Scientific and Technological Development (CNPq: number 307597/2016-4 to Leandro Juen).

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Veras, D.S., Castro, E.R., Lustosa, G.S. et al. Evaluating the habitat integrity index as a potential surrogate for monitoring the water quality of streams in the cerrado-caatinga ecotone in northern Brazil. Environ Monit Assess 191, 562 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10661-019-7667-x

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Keywords

  • Hydrographic basin
  • Environmental heterogeneity
  • Habitat integrity
  • Riparian forest
  • Monitoring of water quality