• macroinvertebrates;
  • ecological condition;
  • river


1. AusRivAS (Australian River Assessment Scheme) models were developed, using macroinvertebrates as indicators, to assess the ecological condition of rivers in Western Australia as part of an Australia-wide program. The models were based on data from 188 minimally disturbed reference sites and are similar to RIVPACS models used in Britain. The major habitats in the rivers (macrophyte, channel) were sampled separately and macroinvertebrates collected were identified to family level.

2. Laboratory sorting of preserved macroinvertebrate samples recovered about 90% of families present when 150 animals were collected, whereas live picking in the field recovered only 76%.

3. Reference sites clustered into five groups on the basis of macroinvertebrate families present. Using seven physical variables, a discriminant function allocated 73% of sites to the correct classification group. A discriminant function based on seven physical and two chemical variables allocated 81% of sites to the correct group. However, when the same reference sites were re-sampled the following year, the nine variable discriminant function misallocated more sites than the seven variable function, owing to annual fluctuations in water chemistry that were not accompanied by changes in fauna.

4. In preliminary testing, the wet season channel model correctly assessed 80% of reference sites as undisturbed in the year subsequent to model building (10% of sites were expected to rate as disturbed because the 10th percentile was used as the threshold for disturbance). Nine sites from an independent data set, all thought to be disturbed, were assessed as such by the model. Results from twenty test sites, chosen because they represented a wide range of ecological condition, were less clear-cut. In its current state the model reliably distinguishes undisturbed and severely disturbed sites. Subtle impacts are either detected inconsistently or do not affect ecological condition.