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Environ Manage. 2004 Nov;34(5):669-83.

Understanding stream geomorphic state in relation to ecological integrity: evidence using habitat assessments and macroinvertebrates.

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Rubenstein School of Environment and Natural Resources, Rubenstein Ecosystem Science Laboratory, University of Vermont, Burlington, Vermont 05401, USA.


Scientists have long assumed that the physical structure and condition of stream and river channels have pervasive effects on biological communities and processes, but specific tests are few. To investigate the influence of the stream-reach geomorphic state on in-stream habitat and aquatic macroinvertebrate communities, we compared measures of habitat conditions and macroinvertebrate community composition between stable and unstable stream reaches in a paired-study design. We also explored potential associations between these ecological measures and individual geomorphic characteristics and channel adjustment processes (degradation, aggradation, overwidening, and change in planform). We found that habitat quality and heterogeneity were closely tied to stream stability, with geomorphically stable reaches supporting better habitat than unstable reaches. Geomorphic and habitat assessment scores were highly correlated (r = 0.624, P < 0.006, n = 18). Stable reaches did not support significantly greater macroinvertebrate densities than unstable reaches (t = -0.415, P > 0.689, df = 8). However, the percent of the macroinvertebrate community in the Ephemeroptera, Plecoptera, and Trichoptera (EPT) taxa was significantly correlated with the overall habitat assessment scores as well as with individual measures of geomorphic condition and habitat quality. While there is a clear need for more work in classifying and quantifying the responses of aquatic and aquatic-dependent biota to various geomorphic states and processes, this study provides solid preliminary evidence that macroinvertebrate communities are affected by the geomorphic condition of the stream reaches they inhabit and that geomorphic assessment approaches can be used as a tool for evaluating ecological integrity.

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