Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy in Biological Sciences (PhD)

College, School or Department Name

Department of Biological Sciences


Casey J Huckins


Multiple indices of biotic integrity and biological condition gradient models have been developed and validated to assess ecological integrity in the Laurentian Great Lakes Region. With multiple groups such as Tribal, Federal, and State agencies as well as scientists and local watershed management or river-focused volunteer groups collecting data for bioassessment it is important that we determine the comparability of data and the effectiveness of indices applied to these data for assessment of natural systems. We evaluated the applicability of macroinvertebrate and fish community indices for assessing site integrity. Site quality (i.e., habitat condition) could be classified differently depending on which index was applied. This highlights the need to better understand the metrics driving index variation as well as reference conditions for effective communication and use of indices of biotic integrity in the Upper Midwest. We found the macroinvertebrate benthic community index for the Northern Lakes and Forests Ecoregion and a coldwater fish index of biotic integrity for the Upper Midwest were most appropriate for use in the Big Manistee River watershed based on replicate sampling, ability to track trends over time and overall performance. We evaluated three sites where improper road stream crossings (culverts) were improved by replacing them with modern full-span structures using the most appropriate fish and macroinvertebrate IBIs. We used a before-after-control-impact paired series analytical design and found mixed results, with evidence of improvement in biotic integrity based on macroinvertebrate indices at some of the sites while most sites indicated no response in index score. Culvert replacements are often developed based on the potential, or the perception, that they will restore ecological integrity. As restoration practitioners, researchers and managers, we need to be transparent in our goals and objectives and monitor for those results specifically. The results of this research serve as an important model for the broader field of ecosystem restoration and support the argument that while biotic communities can respond to actions undertaken with the goal of overall restoration, practitioners should be realistic in their expectations and claims of predicted benefit, and then effectively evaluate the true impacts of the restoration activities.