Development and application of a predictive model of freshwater fish assemblage composition to evaluate river health in eastern Australia
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Multivariate predictive models are widely used tools for assessment of aquatic ecosystem health and models have been successfully developed for the prediction and assessment of aquatic macroinvertebrates, diatoms, local stream habitat features and fish. We evaluated the ability of a modelling method based on the River InVertebrate Prediction and Classification System (RIVPACS) to accurately predict freshwater fish assemblage composition and assess aquatic ecosystem health in rivers and streams of south-eastern Queensland, Australia. The predictive model was developed, validated and tested in a region of comparatively high environmental variability due to the unpredictable nature of rainfall and river discharge. The model was concluded to provide sufficiently accurate and precise predictions of species composition and was sensitive enough to distinguish test sites impacted by several common types of human disturbance (particularly impacts associated with catchment land use and associated local riparian, in-stream habitat and water quality degradation). The total number of fish species available for prediction was low in comparison to similar applications of multivariate predictive models based on other indicator groups, yet the accuracy and precision of our model was comparable to outcomes from such studies. In addition, our model developed for sites sampled on one occasion and in one season only (winter), was able to accurately predict fish assemblage composition at sites sampled during other seasons and years, provided that they were not subject to unusually extreme environmental conditions (e.g. extended periods of low flow that restricted fish movement or resulted in habitat desiccation and local fish extinctions).