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A generalized watershed disturbance-invertebrate relation applicable in a range of environmental settings across the continental United States

Steuer, Jeffrey J.
Urban ecosystems 2010 v.13 no.4 pp. 415-424
Ephemeroptera, Plecoptera, Trichoptera, ecosystems, grasslands, models, streams, urban areas, urbanization, watershed management, watersheds, United States
It is widely recognized that urbanization can affect ecological conditions in aquatic systems; numerous studies have identified impervious surface cover as an indicator of urban intensity and as an index of development at the watershed, regional, and national scale. Watershed percent imperviousness, a commonly understood urban metric was used as the basis for a generalized watershed disturbance metric that, when applied in conjunction with weighted percent agriculture and percent grassland, predicted stream biotic conditions based on Ephemeroptera, Plecoptera, and Trichoptera (EPT) richness across a wide range of environmental settings. Data were collected in streams that encompassed a wide range of watershed area (4.4-1,714 km²), precipitation (38-204 cm/yr), and elevation (31-2,024 m) conditions. Nevertheless the simple 3-landcover disturbance metric accounted for 58% of the variability in EPT richness based on the 261 nationwide sites. On the metropolitan area scale, relationship r ² ranged from 0.04 to 0.74. At disturbance values <15 the EPT rate of decrease was ∼10 times greater than at disturbance values >15. Future work may incorporate watershed management practices within the disturbance metric, further increasing the management applicability of the relation. Such relations developed on a regional or metropolitan area scale are likely to be stronger than geographically generalized models; as found in these EPT richness relations. However, broad spatial models are able to provide much needed understanding in unmonitored areas and provide initial guidance for stream potential.