Identifying biotic integrity and water chemistry relations in nonwadeable rivers of Wisconsin: toward the development of nutrient criteria

Environ Manage. 2007 Oct;40(4):691-708. doi: 10.1007/s00267-006-0452-y. Epub 2007 Jul 18.


We sampled 41 sites on 34 nonwadeable rivers that represent the types of rivers in Wisconsin, and the kinds and intensities of nutrient and other anthropogenic stressors upon each river type. Sites covered much of United States Environmental Protection Agency national nutrient ecoregions VII--Mostly Glaciated Dairy Region, and VIII--Nutrient Poor, Largely Glaciated upper Midwest. Fish, macroinvertebrates, and three categories of environmental variables including nutrients, other water chemistry, and watershed features were collected using standard protocols. We summarized fish assemblages by index of biotic integrity (IBI) and its 10 component measures, and macroinvertebrates by 2 organic pollution tolerance and 12 proportional richness measures. All biotic and environmental variables represented a wide range of conditions, with biotic measures ranging from poor to excellent status, despite nutrient concentrations being consistently higher than reference concentrations reported for the regions. Regression tree analyses of nutrients on a suite of biotic measures identified breakpoints in total phosphorus (approximately 0.06 mg/l) and total nitrogen (approximately 0.64 mg/l) concentrations at which biotic assemblages were consistently impaired. Redundancy analyses (RDA) were used to identify the most important variables within each of the three environmental variable categories, which were then used to determine the relative influence of each variable category on the biota. Nutrient measures, suspended chlorophyll a, water clarity, and watershed land cover type (forest or row-crop agriculture) were the most important variables and they explained significant amounts of variation within the macroinvertebrate (R(2) = 60.6%) and fish (R(2) = 43.6%) assemblages. The environmental variables selected in the macroinvertebrate model were correlated to such an extent that partial RDA analyses could not attribute variation explained to individual environmental categories, assigning 89% of the explained variation to interactions among the categories. In contrast, partial RDA attributed much of the explained variation to the nutrient (25%) and other water chemistry (38%) categories for the fish model. Our analyses suggest that it would be beneficial to develop criteria based upon a suite of biotic and nutrient variables simultaneously to deem waters as not meeting their designated uses.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Fishes*
  • Invertebrates*
  • Nitrogen / analysis*
  • Phosphorus / analysis*
  • Rivers*
  • Water Pollutants, Chemical / analysis*
  • Wisconsin


  • Water Pollutants, Chemical
  • Phosphorus
  • Nitrogen