, Volume 566, Issue 1, pp 153–172 | Cite as

Biological quality metrics: their variability and appropriate scale for assessing streams

  • Gunta Springe
  • Leonard Sandin
  • Agrita Briede
  • Agnija Skuja


The concept of spatial scale is at the research frontier in ecology, and although focus has been placed on trying to determine the role of spatial scale in structuring communities, there still is a further need to standardize which organism groups are to be used at which scale and under which circumstances in environmental assessment. This paper contributes to the understanding of the variability at different spatial scales (reach, stream, river basin) of metrics characterizing communities of different biological quality elements (macrophytes, fishes, macroinvertebrates and benthic diatoms) as defined by the Water Framework Directive. For this purpose, high-quality reaches from medium-sized lowland streams of Latvia, Ecoregion 15 (Baltic) were sampled using a nested hierarchical sampling design: (river basin → stream → reach). The variability of metrics within the different groups of biological quality elements confirmed that large-bodied organisms (macrophytes and fish) were less variable than small-bodied organisms (macroinvertebrates and benthic diatoms) at reach, stream and river basin scales. Single metrics of biological quality elements had the largest variation at the reach scale compared with stream and basin scales. There were no significant correlations between biodiversity indices of the different organism groups. The correlation between diversity indices (Shannon’s and Simpson’s) of the biological quality elements (macrophytes, fish, benthic macroinvertebrates and benthic diatoms) and a number of measured environmental variables varied among the different organism groups. Relationships between diversity indices and environmental factors were established for all groups of biological quality elements. Our results showed that metrics of macrophytes and fish could be used for assessing ecological quality at the river basin scale, whereas metrics of macroinvertebrates and benthic diatoms were most appropriate at a smaller scale.


biological quality elements Water Framework Directive metric variability spatial scale medium-sized lowland streams high quality sites 


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. Anonymous, 1992. Standard Methods for Examination of Water and Wastewater. 18th edn. APHA, AWWA, WEFGoogle Scholar
  2. Anonymous., 2000. European Commission Directive 2000/60/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 23 October 2000 establishing a framework for community action in the field of water policy. Official Journal L 327, 22/12/ 2000 P : 0001–0073.Google Scholar
  3. Barbour, M. T., J. Gerritsen, B. D. Snyder & J. B. Stribling, 1999. Rapid Bioassessment Protocols for use in Streams and Wadeable Rivers: Periphyton, Benthic Macroinvertebrates, and Fish. EPA 841-B-99-002. 2nd edn. US Environmental Protection Agency, Office of Water, Washington DCGoogle Scholar
  4. Bis, B., Zdanovic, A., Zalewski, M. 2000Effects of catchment properties on hydrochemistry, habitat complexity and invertebrate structure in a lowland riverHydrobiologia422/423369CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. CEMAGREF, 1982. Etude des méthodes biologiques d’appréciation quantitative de la qualité des eaux. Rapport Q. E. Lyon A. F. Bassin Rhōne-Méditérannée-Corse, 218Google Scholar
  6. Dawson, F. H., Newman, J. R., Gravelle, M. J., Rouen, K. J., Henville, P. 1999 Assessment of the Trophic Status of Rivers Using Macrophytes – Evaluation of the Mean Trophic Rank. R&D Technical Report E39Environment AgencyBristol177Google Scholar
  7. Dauwalter, D. C., Jackson, J. R. 2004A provisional fish index of biotic integrity for assessing Ouachita Mountains streams in Arkansas, U.S.AEnvironmental Monitoring Assessment912757CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Dell’Uomo, A. 1996Assessment of water quality of an Apennine river as a pilot studyWhitton, B. A.Rott, T. eds. Use of Algae for Monitoring RiversII Institute für BotanikUniverität Innsbruck6573Google Scholar
  9. Descy, J. P. 1979A new approach to water quality estimation using diatomsNova Hedwigia64305323Google Scholar
  10. Descy, J. P., Coste, M. 1991A test of methods for assessing water quality based on diatomsVerhandlungen der Internationalischen Vereinigung für Theoretische und Angewandte Limnologie2421122116Google Scholar
  11. Ellenberg, H. 1979Die Zeigerwerte der Gewässpflanzen MitteleuropasScripta Geobotanica91122Google Scholar
  12. Frenzel, S. A., Swanson, R. B. 1996Relations of Fish Community Composition to Environmental Variables in Streams of Central Nebraska, USAEnvironmental Management20689705PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Furse M., D. Hering, O. Moog, P. Verdonschot, R. K. Johnson, K. Brabec, K. Gritzalis, A. Buffagni, P. Pinto, N. Friberg, J. Murray-Bligh, J. Kokes, R. Alber, P. Usseglio-Polatera, P. Haase, R. Sweeting, B. Bis, K. Szoszkiewicz, H. Soszka, G. Springe, F. Sporka & I. Krno, 2006. The STAR project: context, objectives and approaches. Hydrobiologia 566: 3–29Google Scholar
  14. Friedrich, G., Chapman, D., Beim, A. 1996The use of biological materialChapman, D. eds. Water Quality Assessments. A Guide to the Use of Biota, Sediments and Water in Environmental MonitoringPublished on behalf of UNESCO, WHO and UNEP by Chapman & HallLondon175242Google Scholar
  15. Gantes, H. P., Caro, A. S. 2001Environmental heterogeneity and spatial distribution of macrophytes in plain streamsAquatic Botany70225236CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Gaston, K. J., Blackburn, T. M. 1999A critique for macroecologyOikos84353368Google Scholar
  17. Gibbons, J. D., 1985. Nonparametric Statistical Inference, 2nd edn. M. DekkerGoogle Scholar
  18. Gorman, O. T., Karr, J. R. 1978Habitat structure and stream fish communitiesEcology59507515CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Hart, D. D., Finelli, C. M. 1999Physical-biological coupling in streams: the pervasive effects of flow on benthic organismsAnnual Review of Ecology and Systematics30363395CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Haury, J., M. C. Peltre, M. Tremolieres, J. Barbe, G. Thiebaut, I. Bernez, H. Daniel, P. Chatenet, S. Muller, A. Dutartre, C. Laplace-Treyture, A. Cazaubon & E. Lambert-Servien, 2002. A method involving macrophytes to assess water trophy and organic pollution: the Macrophyte Biological Index for Rivers (IBMR) – application to different types of rivers and pollutions. Proc. 11th ewrs internat’l. symp. aquatic weeds, Moliets et Maa, France, (eds), A. Dutartre & M. -H. Montel, 247–250Google Scholar
  21. Heino, J., Muotka, T., Paavoal, R., Hämäläinen, H., Koskemmiemi, E. 2002Correspondence between regional delineations and spatial patterns in macroinvertebrate assemblages of boreal headwater streamsJournal of the North American Benthological Society21397413CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Hering, D., Moog, O., Sandin, L., Verdonschot, P. F. M. 2004Overview and application of the AQEM assessment systemHydrobiologia516121CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Hillebrand, H., Waterman, R., Karez, R., Berninger, U. G. 2001Differences in species richness patterns between unicellular and multicellular organismsOekologia126114124Google Scholar
  24. Holmes, N. T. H., Newman, J. R., Chadd, S., Rouen, K. J., Saint, L., Dawson, F. H. 1999Mean Trophic Rank: A Users Manual. R&D Technical Report No. E38Environment AgencyBristol, UKGoogle Scholar
  25. Hughes, R. M., Paulsen, S. G., Stoddard, J. L. 2000EMAP-Surface Waters: a national, multiassemblage, probability survey of ecological integrityHydrobiologia423429443CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Jalas, J. 1955Hemerobe und hemerochore Pflanzenarten – ein terminologischer ReformversuchActa Societatis pro Fauna et Flora Fennica72115Google Scholar
  27. Jansons, V., Vagstad, N., Sudars, R., Deelstra, J., Dzalbe, I., Kirsteina, D. 2002Nutrient losses from point and diffuse agricultural sources in LatviaLandbauforschnung Volkenrode.1917Google Scholar
  28. Johnson, R. K. 1995The indicator concept in freshwater biomonitoring Thienemann lectureCranston, P. S. eds. Chironomids – from Genes to Ecosystems, Proceedings of the 12th International Symposium on Chironomidae, Canberra, AustraliaCSIROMelbourne1127Google Scholar
  29. Johnson, R. K. 1998Spatial-temporal variability of temperate lake macroinvertebrate communities: detection of impactEcological Applications86170CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Jowett, I. G., Richardson, J. 2003Fish communities in New Zealand rivers and their relationship to environmental variablesNew Zealand Journal of Marine and Freshwater Research37347366CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Joy, M. K., Death, R. G. 2004Application of the index of biotic integrity methodology to New Zealand freshwater fish communitiesEnvironmental Management3441528PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Kelly, M. G., Whitton, B. A. 1995The Trophic Diatom Index: a new index for monitoring eutrophication in riversJournal of Applied Phycology7433444Google Scholar
  33. Kesminas, V., Virbickas, T. 2000Application of an adapted index of biotic integrity to rivers of LithuaniaHydrobiologia422/423257270CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Krebs, C. J. 1999Ecological Methodology2Addison Wesley Longman, IncMenlo Park, California620Google Scholar
  35. Kwandrans, J., Eloranta, P., Kawecka, B., Wojtan, K. 1998Use of benthic diatom communities to evaluate water quality in rivers of southern PolandJournal of Applied Phycology10193201CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Lammert, M., Allan, J. D. 1999Assessing the biotic integrity of streams: effects of scale in measuring the influence of land use/cover and habitat structure on fish and macroinvertebratesEnvironmental Management23257270PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Lecointe, C., Coste, M., Prygiel, J. 1993‘Omnidia’ Software for taxonomy, calculation of diatom indices and inventories managementHydrobiologia269/270509513CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Leclercq, L. & B. Maquet, 1987. Deux nouveaux indices chimique et diatomique de qualité d’eau courante. Application au Samson et à ses affluents (bassin de la Meuse belge). Comparaison avec d’autres indices chimiques, biocènotiques et diatomiques. Institut Royal des Sciences Naturelles de Belgique, document de travail 28: 113Google Scholar
  39. Legendre, P., Fortin, M. J. 1989Spatial pattern and ecological analysisVegetation80107138CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Leland, H. V. 1995Distribution of benthic diatoms in the Yakima River Basin, Washington, in relation to geology, land use, and other environmental factorsCanadian Journal of Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences5211081129CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Leland, H. V., Fend, S. V. 1998Benthic invertebrate distributions in the San Joaquin River, California, in relation to physical and chemical factorsCanadian Journal of Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences5510511067CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Leland, H. V., Porter, S. D. 2000Distribution of benthic algae in the upper Illinois River basin in relation to geology and land useFreshwater Biology44279301CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Lenat, D. R., Penrose, D. L. 1996History of the EPT taxa richness metricBulletin North American Benthological Society13305307Google Scholar
  44. Li, J., Herlihy, A., Gerth, W., Kaufmann, P., Gregory, S., Urquhart, S., Larsen, D. P. 2001Variability in stream macroinvertebrates at multiple spatial scalesFreshwater Biology468797CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Loreau, M., Naeem, S., Inchusti, P., Bengtsson, J., Grime, J. P., Hector, A. 2001Biodiversity and ecosystem functioning: current knowledge and future challengeScience294804808PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. McCune, B., Mefford, M. J. 1999PC-ORD. Multivariate Analysis of Ecological Data, version 4MjM Software DesignGleneden Beach, Oregon, USAGoogle Scholar
  47. Mackay, S. J., Arthington, A. H., Kennard, M. J., Pusey, J. 2003Spatial variation in the distribution and abundance of submersed macrophytes in an Australian subtropical riverAquatic Botany77169186CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Mastrorillo, S., Dauba, F., Oberdorff, T., Guégan, J. F., Lek, S. 1998Predicting local fish species richness in the Garonne river basinComptes Rendus de l’Académie des Sciences de Paris321423428Google Scholar
  49. McCormik, F. H., Hughes, R. M. 1998Aquatic vertebratesLazorchak, J. L.,Klemm, D. J.Peck, D. V. eds. Environmental Monitoring and Assessment Program – Surface Waters: Field Operations and Methods for Measuring the Ecological Condition of Wadable StreamsEPA/620/R-94/004F US EPAWashington DC161182Google Scholar
  50. Meador, M. R., Goldstein, R. M. 2003Assessing water quality at large geographic scales: relations among land use, water physicochemistry, riparian condition, and fish community structureEnvironmental Management31504517PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Muotka, T., J. Heino, R. Paavola & J. Soininen, 2004. Large scale biodiversity patterns of boreal stream communities. In Eloranta, P. (ed.), Inland and Coastal Waters of Finland 116–119Google Scholar
  52. Minshall, G. W. 1984Aquatic insect-substratum relationshipsResh, V. H.Rosenberg, D. M. eds. The ecology of aquatic insectsPraeger ScientificNew York, USA358400Google Scholar
  53. Pan, Y., Stevenson, R. J., Hill, B. H., Kaufmann, P. R., Herlihy, A. T. 1999Spatial patterns and ecological determinants of benthic algal assemblages in Mid-Atlantic streams, USAJournal of Applied Phycology35460468CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Poff, N. L. 1997Landscape filters and species traits: towards mechanistic understand and prediction in stream ecologyJournal of North American Benthological Society16391409CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. Prygiel, J., Coste, M. 1993The assessment of water quality in the Artois-Picardie water basin (France) by the use of diatom indicesHydrobiologia302179188Google Scholar
  56. Potapova, M., Charles, D. F. 2002Benthic diatoms in USA Rivers: distributions along spatial and environmental gradientsJournal of Biogeography29167187CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. Raven, P. J., Fox, P., Everald, M., Holmes, N. T. H., Dawson, F. H. 1997River Habitat Survey: a new method for classifying rivers according to their habitat qualityBoon, P. J.Howell, D. L. eds. Freshwater Quality: Defining the Indefinable?The Stationery OfficeEdinburgh215234Google Scholar
  58. Raven, P. J., N. T. H. Holmes, F. H. Dawson & M. Everald, 1998. Quality assessment using River Habitat Survey data. Aquatic Conservation: Marine And Freshwater Ecosystems: 477-499Google Scholar
  59. Reynoldson, T. B., Norris, R. H., Resh, V. H., Day, K. E., Rosenberg, D. M. 1997The reference condition: a comparison of multimetric and multivariate approaches to assess water-quality impairment using benthic macroinvertebratesJournal of the North American Benthological Society16833852CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  60. Richards, C., Host, G. E., Arthur, J. W. 1993Identification of predominant environmental factors structuring stream macroinvertebrate communities within a large agricultural catchmentFreshwater Biology29285294CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  61. Richards, C., Haro, R. J., Johnston, L. B., Host, G. E. 1997Catchment and reach-scale properties as indicators of macroinvertebrate species traitsFreshwater Biology37219230CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  62. Rivers Ouse, Ure and Wharfe Macrophyte Surveys, 2001. Report for Yorkshire Services Ltd by Bullen ConsultantsGoogle Scholar
  63. Rott, E. (ed.), 1999. Indikationslisten für Aufwuchsalgen in Österreichischen fliessgewässern. Teil 2: Trophienindikation sowie geochemische Präferenz, taxonomische und toxikologische Anmerkungen Bundesministerium für Land- und Forstwirschaft, Wasserwirtschaftskataster WienGoogle Scholar
  64. Sandin,, L., 2001. Spatial and temporal variability of stream benthic macrroinvertebrates. Implications for environmental assessment. Doctoral thesis, Silvestria 172, Swedish University of Agricultural SciencesGoogle Scholar
  65. Sandin, L., Johnson, R. K. 2000aSpatial scale of benthic macroinvertebrate communities in Swedish streams: variation partitioning using partial Canonical Correspondence AnalysisVerhandlungen der Internationalischen Vereinigung für Theoretische und Angewandte Limnologie27382383Google Scholar
  66. Sandin, L., Johnson, R. K. 2000bEcoregions and benthic macroinvertebrates in Swedish streamsJournal of North American Benthological Society19462474CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  67. Sandin, L., Johnson, R. K. 2000cStatistical power of selected indicator metrics using macroinvertebrates for assessing acidification and eutrophication of running watersHydrobiologia422/423233243CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  68. Sandin, L. & R. K. Johnson, 2004. Local, landscape and regional factors structuring benthic macroinvertebrate assemblages in Swedish streams. Landscape Ecology 19: 501–514Google Scholar
  69. Sládeček, V. 1986Diatoms as indicators of organic pollutionActa Hydrochimica et Hydrobiologica14555566Google Scholar
  70. Soininen, J. 2003Heterogeneity of benthic diatom communities in different spatial scales and current velocities in a turbid riverArchiv für Hydrobiologie156551564CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  71. Soininen, J. 2004Benthic Diatom Community Structure in Boreal Streams. Distrubution Patterns Along Environmental And Spatial GradientsAcademic dissertation in limnologyHelsinki46Google Scholar
  72. Soininen, J., Könönen, K. 2004Comparative study of monitoring South-Finnish rivers and streams using macroinvertebrate and benthic diatom community structureAquatic Ecology386375CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  73. SPSS for Windows Rel. 12.0.1., 2004. Chicago: SPSS IncGoogle Scholar
  74. Statzner, B., Gore, J. A., Resh, V. H. 1988Hydraulic Stream Ecology: observed patterns and potential applicationsJournal of the North American Benthological Society7307360CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  75. Steinberg, C., Schiefele, S. 1988Biological indication of trophy and pollution of running watersZeitschrift für Wasser-Abwasser Forschung21227234Google Scholar
  76. Tonn, W. M., Magnuson, J. J., Rask, M., Toivonen, J. 1990Intercontinental comparison of small-lake fish assemblages: the balance between local and regional processesAmerican Naturalist136345375CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  77. Thompson, J. N., Reichman, O. J., Morin, P. J., Polis, G. A., Power, M. E., Sterner, R. W., Couch, C. A., Gough, L., Holt, R., Hooper, D. U., Keesing, F., Lovell, C. R., Milne, B. T., Molles, M. C., Roberts, D. W., Strauss, S. Y. 2001Frontiers of EcologyBioscience51524CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  78. Tremp, H., Kohler, A. 1995The usefulness of macrophyte monitoring-systems, exemplified on eutrophication and acidification of running watersActa botanica Gallica142541550Google Scholar
  79. Sickle, J., Hughes, R. M. 2000Classification strengths of ecoregions, catchments and geographical clusters for aquatic vertebrates in OregonJournal of the North American Benthological Society19370384CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  80. Vis, C., Hudon, C., Carignan, R. 2003An evaluation of approaches used to determine the distribution and biomass of emergent and submerged aquatic macrophytes over larger spatial scaleAquatic Botany77187201CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  81. Ward, J. V., Tockner, K. 2001Biodiversity: towards a unifying theme for river ecologyFreshwater Biology46807819CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  82. Westlake, D. F. 1975MacrophytesWhitton, B. A. eds. River Ecology: Studies in EcologyUniversity of California PressBerkeley106128Google Scholar
  83. Whittier, T. R., Hughes, R. M., Larsen, D. P. 1988Correspondence between ecoregions and spatial patterns in stream ecosystems in OregonCanadian Journal of Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences4512641278Google Scholar
  84. Zelinka, M., Marvan, P. 1961Zur Präzisierung der biologischen Klassifikation der Reinheit fliessender GewässerArchiv für Hydrobioliogie57389407Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer 2006

Authors and Affiliations

  • Gunta Springe
    • 1
  • Leonard Sandin
    • 2
  • Agrita Briede
    • 1
  • Agnija Skuja
    • 1
  1. 1.Institute of BiologyUniversity of LatviaSalaspilsLatvia
  2. 2.Department of Environmental AssessmentSwedish University of Agricultural SciencesUppsalaSweden

Personalised recommendations