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Ecol Appl. 2006 Aug;16(4):1295-310.

Predictive models attribute effects on fish assemblages to toxicity and habitat alteration.

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National Institute of Public Health and the Environment (RIVM), Bilthoven, The Netherlands.


Biological assessments should both estimate the condition of a biological resource (magnitude of alteration) and provide environmental managers with a diagnosis of the potential causes of impairment. Although methods of quantifying condition are well developed, identifying and proportionately attributing impairment to probable causes remain problematic. Furthermore, analyses of both condition and cause have often been difficult to communicate. We developed an approach that (1) links fish, habitat, and chemistry data collected from hundreds of sites in Ohio (USA) streams, (2) assesses the biological condition at each site, (3) attributes impairment to multiple probable causes, and (4) provides the results of the analyses in simple-to-interpret pie charts. The data set was managed using a geographic information system. Biological condition was assessed using a RIVPACS (river invertebrate prediction and classification system)-like predictive model. The model provided probabilities of capture for 117 fish species based on the geographic location of sites and local habitat descriptors. Impaired biological condition was defined as the proportion of those native species predicted to occur at a site that were observed. The potential toxic effects of exposure to mixtures of contaminants were estimated using species sensitivity distributions and mixture toxicity principles. Generalized linear regression models described species abundance as a function of habitat characteristics. Statistically linking biological condition, habitat characteristics including mixture risks, and species abundance allowed us to evaluate the losses of species with environmental conditions. Results were mapped as simple effect and probable-cause pie charts (EPC pie diagrams), with pie sizes corresponding to magnitude of local impairment, and slice sizes to the relative probable contributions of different stressors. The types of models we used have been successfully applied in ecology and ecotoxicology, but they have not previously been used in concert to quantify impairment and its likely causes. Although data limitations constrained our ability to examine complex interactions between stressors and species, the direct relationships we detected likely represent conservative estimates of stressor contributions to local impairment. Future refinements of the general approach and specific methods described here should yield even more promising results.

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