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Louisiana waterthrushes (Seiurus motacilla) and habitat assessments as cost-effective indicators of instream biotic integrity

Authors


Brady Mattsson, Warnell School of Forestry and Natural Resources, University of Georgia, Athens, GA 30602, U.S.A.
E-mail: bjmatt@warnell.uga.edu

Summary

1. Benthic stream animals, in particular macroinvertebrates, are good indicators of water quality, but sampling can be laborious to obtain accurate indices of biotic integrity. Thus, tools for bioassessment that include measurements other than macroinvertebrates would be valuable additions to volunteer monitoring protocols.

2. We evaluated the usefulness of a stream-dependent songbird, the Louisiana waterthrush (waterthrush, Seiurus motacilla) and the Environmental Protection Agency Visual Habitat Assessment (EPA VHA) as indicators of the macrobenthos community in headwater streams of the Georgia Piedmont, U.S.A. We sampled macrobenthos, surveyed waterthrushes and measured habitat characteristics along 39 headwater reaches across 17 catchments ranging from forested to heavily urbanised or grazed by cattle.

3. Of the indicators considered, waterthrush occupancy was best for predicting relative abundances of macrobenthic taxa, while the EPA VHA was best for predicting Ephemeroptera–Plecoptera–Trichoptera (EPT) richness. Individual components of EPA VHA scores were much less useful as indicators of EPT richness and % EPT when compared with the total score. Waterthrushes were found along streams with higher % EPT, a lower Family Biotic Index (FBI) values and greater macrobenthos biomass.

4. While macroinvertebrates remain one of the most direct indicators of stream water quality, stream bird surveys and reach-scale habitat assessments can serve as cost-effective indicators of benthic macroinvertebrate communities. Using stream-dependent birds as an early warning signal for degradation of stream biotic integrity could improve the efficacy of catchment monitoring programmes in detecting and identifying perturbations within the catchment.

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