Does the lentic-lotic character of rivers affect invertebrate metrics used in the assessment of ecological quality?

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Stefania ERBA
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The importance of local hydraulic conditions on the structuring of freshwater biotic communities is widely recognized by the scientific community. In spite of this, most current methods based upon invertebrates do not take this factor into account in their assessment of ecological quality. The aim of this paper is to investigate the influence of local hydraulic conditions on invertebrate community metrics and to estimate their potential weight in the evaluation of river water quality. The dataset used consisted of 130 stream sites located in four broad European geographical contexts: Alps, Central mountains, Mediterranean mountains and Lowland streams. Using River Habitat Survey data, the river hydromorphology was evaluated by means of the Lentic-lotic River Descriptor and the Habitat Modification Score. To quantify the level of water pollution, a synoptic Organic Pollution Descriptor was calculated. For their established, wide applicability, STAR Intercalibration Common Metrics and index were selected as biological quality indices. Significant relationships between selected environmental variables and biological metrics devoted to the evaluation of ecological quality were obtained by means of Partial Least Squares regression analysis. The lentic-lotic character was the most significant factor affecting invertebrate communities in the Mediterranean mountains, even if it is a relevant factor for most quality metrics also in the Alpine and Central mountain rivers. Therefore, this character should be taken into account when assessing ecological quality of rivers because it can greatly affect the assignment of ecological status.

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