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A Study in Stream Ecology

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A Study in Stream Ecology

[Intro Music begins]

[Steven Sobieszczyk] Each year USGS scientists systematically

assess the ecological health and water-quality conditions in

streams and rivers across the United States. This research

plays a vital role in land management and natural

resource decisions around the country. Contrary to

popular belief, these extensive data collection efforts

completed by researchers in the USGS National

Water-Quality Assessment Program involve much

more than just water quality.

[Kurt Carpenter] Back when the NAWQA program

first started, the National Water-Quality Assessment

Program, they recognized the need to incorporate biology

into the sampling. We look at the algae that’s in the different

streams and rivers and the bugs that eat the algae and then

also the fish that rely upon the bugs as a food source.

We also look at the habitat and the water quality

to see how all these different groups of organisms

respond to things like nutrients, pesticides,

temperature, and other stressors.

[Ian Waite] What we’ve done is we’ve developed

these methods that seem to work well across the nation.

We have standard methods and standard protocols

and so that way when we do the sampling here…

and the same methods are used back in the east

coast or the Midwest or whatever, that we’ve

sampled everything in the same way. So we can

compare and combine the data sets and

actually assess things nationally or regionally.

[Kurt Carpenter] The program, in general, is

looking at watersheds across the nation in

pretty large river basins. And that has provided

hundreds and hundreds of sampling locations

in areas of urbanization, agricultural land uses,

but also in settings like this…forested ecosystems

that haven’t been as impacted by anthropogenic activities.

[Ian Waite] One of the things that’s really

important in what we call “biologic assessments”

of streams, so how do we…can we understand the

conditions of streams and make a comparison

between one stream and the next is…you have to

know what is your reference, or minimally

impacted condition. If you don’t know what your

benchmark is, you can’t then say when are things

impacted or impaired or how or when are things

changing. With climate change? Or with land

use changes? You need to know your benchmark.

[Ian Waite] All the different ecological data, the

algae, the macroinvertebrates, the fish, they give

us different indications of what’s happening. One of

the things we’re realizing is that it’s important to

study more than one type of biological organism in

the stream. Because each one can give you a slightly

different signal. The other thing that it really gives

us an indication of…is land use affects. Or when

we look at the affects of agricultural land use on

streams that we see that the biological is a really

good response indicator of impacts due to water

quality, or habitat changes, or sedimentation, or things like that.

[Kurt Carpenter] When we start to see impacts

from things like water pollution on the biota,

we see that in a variety of indicator species, a

lot of the time we’ll see the diversity decline.

Instead of having a food web where nutrients

and light energy combine to produce a real

productive stream that we tend to see as having

a healthy trout population, or at least in these

mountainous streams in the west. What you

find is that you don’t see very many trout

and the benthic vertebrate population is greatly

simplified, you don’t see a lot of mayflies

and stoneflies or other types of food for the fish.

That can ultimately be traced back to water pollution.

[Ian Waite] Water quality is important to sample

but one of the problems is it is expensive and

it is only a one-time sample. It only grabs the

water and gives you an assessment of what is

happening at that one time. Where the biology,

they live there all year long. So what you find

when you’re sampling is they’ve been living

and have been exposed to all the conditions

that have happened all year long. And that’s

why biology is a really good indicator of the whole system.

[Kurt Carpenter] A lot of the management and

policy decisions that are set are driven by

bio-criteria. And so we look at the health of

biologic communities, really the full assemblage

of fish, bugs, and the algae to get a full assessment

of what the biota look like. But then we also

collect samples and analyze water samples for

nutrients and pesticides. Through the monitoring

that we do and these interdisciplinary studies,

and multidisciplinary approaches, we use all kinds

of different modeling, and multivariate statistics

and tease all this stuff apart, but ultimately we hope

that the information we generate can be used by

management agencies that dictate things like

nutrient levels that are permitted in streams and

controlling runoff and erosion and all those sort

of processes. And really, without this kind of

information where do you really begin.

[Steven Sobieszczyk] To find out more about NAWQA

sampling efforts in your area or to learn more about how

the USGS monitors the ecological health of rivers in the

United States, please visit the USGS online. Historical

data from Oregon, as well as the rest of the country can

be found at our National Water Information

System or at our biodata websites.

This has been a video production of the Oregon

Science Podcast, U.S. Geological Survey, Department of the Interior.

[Outro Music ends]


Title: A Study in Stream Ecology


In this episode we explore how scientists for the USGS National Water Quality Assessment Program investigate the ecological health of rivers and streams across the United States. Focusing on a recent sampling effort along the Minam River in northeast Oregon, this video highlights USGS sampling methods for fish, macroinvertebrates (bugs), algae, and habitat. Join us, as we show biometric data can be used to assess the health of streams, only in this episode of the USGS CoreCast.

Location: OR, Minam River, USA

Date Taken: 8/17/2011

Length: 6:56

Video Producer: Steven Sobieszczyk , U.S. Geological Survey

Note: This video has been released into the public domain by the U.S. Geological Survey for use in its entirety. Some videos may contain pieces of copyrighted material. If you wish to use a portion of the video for any purpose, other than for resharing/reposting the video in its entirety, please contact the Video Producer/Videographer listed with this video. Please refer to the USGS Copyright section for how to credit this video.

Additional Video Credits:

PRODUCER: Steven Sobieszczyk

Ian Waite, Kurt Carpenter, David Piatt, Whitney Temple, Terry Maret, Steven Sobieszczyk


See NAWQA Protocols – Method, Sampling, and Analytical Protocols here

See NAWQA Website here

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Tags: MinamRiver Oregon WaterQuality algae benchmark biology biomarker bugs ecology fish habitat macroinvertebrates pollution sampling


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