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Designing Impact Assessments for Evaluating Ecological Effects of Agricultural Conservation Practices on Streams1

Authors

  • Peter C. Smiley Jr.,

    1. Respectively, Research Ecologist (Smiley), USDA-ARS, Soil Drainage Research Unit, 590 Woody Hayes Drive, Columbus, Ohio 43210
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  • F. Douglas Shields Jr.,

    1. Research Hydraulic Engineer (Shields) and Research Ecologist (Knight), USDA-ARS, National Sedimentation Laboratory, P.O. Box 1157, Oxford, Mississippi 38655
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  • Scott S. Knight

    1. Research Hydraulic Engineer (Shields) and Research Ecologist (Knight), USDA-ARS, National Sedimentation Laboratory, P.O. Box 1157, Oxford, Mississippi 38655
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  • 1

    Paper No. JAWRA-08-0036-P of the Journal of the American Water Resources Association (JAWRA).Discussions are open until six months from print publication.

(E-Mail/Smiley: rocky.smiley@ars.usda.gov).

Abstract

Abstract:  Conservation practices are regularly implemented within agricultural watersheds throughout the United States without evaluating their ecological impacts. Impact assessments documenting how habitat and aquatic biota within streams respond to these practices are needed for evaluating the effects of conservation practices. Numerous sampling protocols have been developed for monitoring streams. However, protocols designed for monitoring studies are not appropriate for impact assessments. We developed guiding principles for designing impact assessments of ecological responses to conservation practices. The guiding principles are as follows: (1) develop the hypothesis first, (2) use replicated experimental designs having controls and treatments, (3) assess the habitat and biological characteristics with quantitative and repeatable sampling methods, (4) use multiple sampling techniques for collecting aquatic organisms, and (5) standardize sampling efforts for aquatic organisms. The guiding principles were applied in designing a study intended to evaluate the influence of herbaceous riparian buffers on channelized headwater streams in central Ohio. Our example highlights that the application of our recommendations will result in impact assessments that are hypothesis-driven and incorporate quantitative methods for the measurement of abiotic and biotic attributes.

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