A mechanistic understanding of the effects of nutrient enrichment in lotic systems has been advanced over the last two decades such that identification of management thresholds for the prevention of eutrophication is now possible. This study describes relationships among primary nutrients (phosphorus and nitrogen), benthic chlorophyll a concentrations, daily dissolved oxygen (DO) concentrations, and the condition of macroinvertebrate and fish communities in small rivers and streams in Ohio, USA. Clear associations between nutrients, secondary response indicators (i.e., benthic chlorophyll and DO), and biological condition were found, and change points between the various indicators were identified for use in water quality criteria for nutrients in small rivers and streams (<1300 km(2)). A change point in benthic chlorophyll a density was detected at an inorganic nitrogen concentration of 0.435 mg/l (+/-0.599 SD), and a total phosphorus (TP) concentration of 0.038 mg/l (+/-0.085 SD). Daily variation in DO concentration was significantly related to benthic chlorophyll concentration and canopy cover, and a change point in 24-h DO concentration range was detected at a benthic chlorophyll level of 182 mg/m(2). The condition of macroinvertebrate communities was related to benthic chlorophyll concentration and both minimum and 24-h range of DO concentration. The condition of fish communities was best explained by habitat quality. The thresholds found in relationships between the stressor and the response variables, when interpreted in light of the uncertainty surrounding individual change points, may now serve as a framework for nutrient criteria in water quality standards.