Measures of nutrient processes as indicators of stream ecosystem health
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To better understand how freshwater ecosystems respond to changes in catchment land-use, it is important to develop measures of ecological health that include aspects of both ecosystem structure and function. This study investigated measures of nutrient processes as potential indicators of stream ecosystem health across a land-use gradient from relatively undisturbed to highly modified. A total of seven indicators (potential denitrification; an index of denitrification potential relative to sediment organic matter; benthic algal growth on artificial substrates amended with (a) N only, (b) P only, and (c) N and P; and delta N-15 of aquatic plants and benthic sediment) were measured at 53 streams in southeast Queensland, Australia. The indicators were evaluated by their response to a defined gradient of agricultural land-use disturbance as well as practical aspects of using the indicators as part of a monitoring program. Regression models based on descriptors of the disturbance gradient explained a large proportion of the variation in six of the seven indicators. Denitrification index, algal growth in N amended substrate, and delta N-15 of aquatic plants demonstrated the best regression. However, the delta N-15 value of benthic sediment was found to be the best indicator overall for incorporation into a monitoring program, as samples were relatively easy to collect and process, and were successfully collected at more than 90% of the study sites.
© 2006 Springer. This is the author-manuscript version of this paper. Reproduced in accordance with the copyright policy of the publisher. The original publication is available at www.springerlink.com