Ecosystem structure and function are complementary measures of water quality in a polluted, spring-influenced river

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We tested how ecosystem structure (macroinvertebrate community and primary producers) and functions (leaf decay and open-water metabolism) are related to water quality in the Portneuf River, southeast Idaho. This river is polluted with excess nutrients and fine sediment and simultaneously demonstrates a range of hydrologic conditions due to a variety of groundwater and spring inputs. Macroinvertebrate abundance, functional feeding group composition, and diversity responded most to hydrology due to affinity of the invasive New Zealand mudsnail for spring-influenced conditions. Macrophytes were most abundant at spring-influenced sites, while benthic periphyton standing crop was highest at sites with highest nutrient concentrations. Leaf decay rates increased by 50% at spring-influenced sites and showed no response to 3–100-fold differences in nutrient concentrations. Finally, primary production measured via open-water metabolism was highest at spring-influenced sites, which tended to have low turbidity. Community respiration, however, was greatest at the site with the highest nutrient concentrations. Therefore, open-water metabolism was a useful indicator of water quality in this nutrient-polluted river, while invertebrate community structure and leaf decay did not reflect large differences in water quality among sites. Our findings suggest that structure and function metrics provide complementary information on biotic responses to water pollution and that these metrics should be used in concert to more fully understand and monitor biotic responses to water pollution and hydrologic alterations in streams and rivers.

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© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2010. Publisher's version of record: http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s11270-010-0432-y

Publication Title

Water, Air, & Soil Pollution