National Water-Quality Assessment (NAWQA) Program
Assess the status and trends of aquatic ecological conditions (invertebrates, fish, algae and habitat) in rivers and wadeable streams.
Relate ecological conditions to chemical stressors (such as nutrients and pesticides), physical disturbances (such as habitat and hydrologic alterations) in the context of different environmental settings and land uses.
Enhance understanding of factors that influence the biological integrity of streams and how these stream ecosystems may respond to diverse natural and human factors.
Develop key ecological indicators of aquatic health.
Michael R. Meador and Daren M. Carlisle
U.S. Geological Survey, 12201 Sunrise Valley Drive, MS 413, Reston, VA 20192, USA
ABSTRACT.The classification of fish species tolerance to environmental disturbance is often used as a means to assess ecosystem conditions. Its use, however, may be problematic because the approach to tolerance classification is based on subjective judgment. We analyzed fish and physicochemical data from 773 stream sites collected as part of the U.S. Geological Survey's National Water-Quality Assessment Program to calculate tolerance indicator values for 10 physicochemical variables using weighted averaging. Tolerance indicator values (TIVs) for ammonia, chloride, dissolved oxygen, nitrite plus nitrate, pH, phosphorus, specific conductance, sulfate, suspended sediment, and water temperature were calculated for 105 common fish species of the United States. Tolerance indicator values for specific conductance and sulfate were correlated (rho = 0.87), and thus, fish species may be co-tolerant to these water-quality variables. We integrated TIVs for each species into an overall tolerance classification for comparisons with judgment-based tolerance classifications. Principal components analysis indicated that the distinction between tolerant and intolerant classifications was determined largely by tolerance to suspended sediment, specific conductance, chloride, and total phosphorus. Factors such as water temperature, dissolved oxygen, and pH may not be as important in distinguishing between tolerant and intolerant classifications, but may help to segregate species classified as moderate. Empirically derived tolerance classifications were 58.8% in agreement with judgment-derived tolerance classifications. Canonical discriminant analysis revealed that few TIVs, primarily chloride, could discriminate among judgment-derived tolerance classifications of tolerant, moderate, and intolerant. To our knowledge, this is the first empirically based understanding of fish species tolerance for stream fishes in the United States.