Get access

Nutrient Enrichment and Fish Nutrient Tolerance: Assessing Biologically Relevant Nutrient Criteria


  • Paper No. JAWRA-12-0111-P of the Journal of the American Water Resources Association (JAWRA).Discussions are open until six months from print publication.



Abstract:  Relationships between nutrient concentrations and fish nutrient tolerance were assessed relative to established nutrient criteria. Fish community, nitrate plus nitrite (nitrate), and total phosphorus (TP) data were collected during summer low-flow periods in 2003 and 2004 at stream sites along a nutrient-enrichment gradient in an agricultural basin in Indiana and Ohio and an urban basin in the Atlanta, Georgia, area. Tolerance indicator values for nitrate and TP were assigned for each species and averaged separately for fish communities at each site (TIVo). Models were used to predict fish species expected to occur at a site under minimally disturbed conditions and average tolerance indicator values were determined for nitrate and TP separately for expected communities (TIVe). In both areas, tolerance scores (TIVo/TIVe) for nitrate increased significantly with increased nitrate concentrations whereas no significant relationships were detected between TP tolerance scores and TP concentrations. A 0% increase in the tolerance score (TIVo/TIVe = 1) for nitrate corresponded to a nitrate concentration of 0.19 mg/l (compared with a USEPA summer nitrate criterion of 0.17 mg/l) in the urban area and 0.31 mg/l (compared with a USEPA summer nitrate criterion of 0.86 mg/l) in the agricultural area. Fish nutrient tolerance values offer the ability to evaluate nutrient enrichment based on a quantitative approach that can provide insights into biologically relevant nutrient criteria.