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Keywords:

  • bioassessment;
  • Fraser River Basin;
  • landscape ecology;
  • land use planning;
  • Reference Condition Approach

Summary

1. Bioassessment has evolved significantly from a method of deciding whether an ecosystem exposed to stressors should ‘pass’ or ‘fail’ (or how badly it fails). Society wants some notion of what has caused any observed degradation of ecosystems, and what management strategies might improve degraded ecosystems. Managers also want to predict what negative or positive effects different land use strategies will have on the component ecosystems of a landscape, including lakes and streams.

2. Here we illustrate an approach to providing these tools to managers with data from a bioassessment study of streams in the Fraser River Basin of British Columbia, Canada.

3. Landscape scale descriptors of both the natural (e.g. catchment size, surficial geology) and stressor (e.g. hard rock mines, forest harvest) environment of each site were used to define the natural and stressor environments of each of the 242 stream sites.

4. We classified 206 reference (relatively unexposed to human activity) sites using their benthic macroinvertebrate community composition, and then discriminated among the faunally defined groups with landscape scale descriptors of the natural environment of the sites.

5. This discriminant function model allowed us to predict which group each of the test sites would be in if it were in reference condition, and then measure the relationship between the amount of human activity and the biota in each of these groups.

6. These relationships were turned into projections of what will happen to a stream ecosystem's biota if the stressor environment is either improved or degraded. These projection models form the basis of evidence-based land use planning that takes into account the health of freshwater ecosystems.