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Development of a benthic macroinvertebrate multimetric index (MMI) for Neotropical Savanna headwater streams

Macedo, Diego R., Hughes, Robert M., Ferreira, Wander R., Firmiano, Kele R., Silva, Deborah R.O., Ligeiro, Raphael, Kaufmann, Philip R., Callisto, Marcos
Ecological indicators 2016 v.64 pp. 132-141
Ephemeroptera, Odonata, anthropogenic activities, ecosystems, environmental assessment, environmental factors, environmental impact, environmental models, hydroelectric power, landscapes, macroinvertebrates, power plants, principal component analysis, savannas, streams, tropics, watersheds, Brazil
Assessing the ecological impacts of anthropogenic pressures is a key task in environmental management. Multimetric indices (MMIs), based on aquatic assemblage responses to anthropogenic pressures, have been used increasingly throughout the world. The MMI approach is a low-cost, rapid field method that produces an aquatic condition index that responds precisely to anthropogenic pressures, making it useful for conservation and environmental management. We developed four candidate MMIs based on benthic macroinvertebrate assemblages sampled at 40 randomly selected sites to assess the environmental condition of streams upstream of a hydroelectric power plant in the Brazilian Neotropical Savanna biome. Those MMIs were built from landscape-adjusted and unadjusted biological metrics as well as two alternative ways of choosing metrics. The alternative MMIs performances were tested by comparing their precision to distinguish least-disturbed areas, responsiveness to discriminate least- and most-disturbed areas, and sensitivity to anthropogenic pressures at catchment and local scales. The best performing MMI had landscape-adjusted metrics and was produced through use of principal component analysis for metric selection. It included 4 metrics: Ephemeroptera richness, average tolerance score per taxon, percentage of predator individuals, and percentage of Odonata individuals adjusted by elevation. This index discriminated well the anthropogenic pressures at local- and catchment-scales, and at both scales simultaneously, as indicated by an integrated disturbance index. Our methodological development included statistical criteria for identifying least- and most-disturbed sites, calibrating for natural landscape variability, and use of non-redundant metrics. Therefore, we expect it will provide a model for environmental assessment of water resources elsewhere in Brazil and in other nations.