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Development of a macroinvertebrate multimetric index for the assessment of low-land streams in the neotropics

Helson, Julie E., Williams, D. Dudley
Ecological indicators 2013 v.29 pp. 167-178
Chironomidae, Trichoptera, anthropogenic activities, community structure, dry season, habitats, lotic systems, macroinvertebrates, mining, principal component analysis, rivers, scrapers, streams, tropics, urbanization, watersheds, wet season, Panama
The water and habitat quality in Panamanian streams and rivers are being degraded by agriculture, urbanization, industrial activities, mining, and other forms of development. Thus, the need for standards, especially those examining the biological attributes of lotic systems, are urgently required. We describe the development of a multimetric index based on macroinvertebrates collected in low-land streams in the Panama Canal Watershed (PCW), which differed in their levels of human impacts. The index was developed using 12 streams and validated using a further three, all of which were sampled on four occasions, in the dry and wet seasons of 2007 and 2008. We examined 42 metrics related to macroinvertebrate community structure, composition, and function. Based on their ability to distinguish reference from moderately or severely impacted streams, and on their independence, we selected seven metrics (Margalef's index (taxa), Shannon's evenness index (taxa), number of EPT (taxa), % of Trichoptera, ratio of Chironomidae/Diptera individuals, % of scrapers, and % of shredders). These metrics were then standardized and developed into the Neotropical Low-land Stream Multimetric Index (NLSMI). Overall, the NLSMI distinguished well among the different levels of impairment (Reference, Moderate impact, and Severe impact) and showed a strong, significant correlation with principal component analysis (PCA) axis one values, with the PCA based on a set of physico-chemical variables indicative of stream quality. The wet season generally resulted in lower NLSMI values, leading us to suggest that sampling for biomonitoring be carried out in the dry season. Overall, this preliminary macroinvertebrate NLSMI shows promise for developing a biomonitoring programme to assess the ecological integrity of streams, to aid with management, restoration, and conservation, and to serve as a basis to develop a more geographically extensive multimetric index.