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Water Res. 2006 Jan;40(1):91-8.

Linking catchment characteristics and water chemistry with the ecological status of Irish rivers.

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Department of Zoology, Trinity College, University of Dublin, Dublin 2, Ireland.


Requirements of the EU Water Framework Directive for the introduction of ecological quality objectives for surface waters and the stipulation that all surface waters in the EU must be of 'good' ecological status by 2015 necessitate a quantitative understanding of the linkages among catchment attributes, water chemistry and the ecological status of aquatic ecosystems. Analysis of lotic ecological status, as indicated by an established biotic index based primarily on benthic macroinvertebrate community structure, of 797 hydrologically independent river sites located throughout Ireland showed highly significant inverse associations between the ecological status of rivers and measures of catchment urbanisation and agricultural intensity, densities of humans and cattle and chemical indicators of water quality. Stepwise logistic regression suggested that urbanisation, arable farming and extent of pasturelands are the principal factors impacting on the ecological status of streams and rivers in Ireland and that the likelihood of a river site complying with the demands of the EU Water Framework Directive, and be of 'good' ecological status, can be predicted with reasonable accuracy using simple models that utilise either widely available landcover data or chemical monitoring data. Non-linear landcover and chemical 'thresholds' derived from these models provide a useful tool in the management of risk in catchments, and suggest strongly that more careful planning of land use in Ireland is essential in order to restore and maintain water quality as required by the Directive.

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