Application of neural networks to quantify the utility of indices of biotic integrity for biological monitoring

Marcus W. Beck, Bruce N. Wilson, Bruce Vondracek, Lorin K. Hatch

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

12 Scopus citations


Indices of Biotic Integrity (IBIs) or multimetric indices have been developed as an approach for monitoring and evaluating biological condition of aquatic organisms. Quantitative evaluations of IBIs to determine whether they can explicitly link environmental condition with anthropogenic activities are needed to effectively use them in management. Analytical approaches using supervised neural networks are potentially powerful techniques to evaluate IBIs. The goal of this study was to evaluate the use of neural networks to identify ecosystem characteristics related to IBI response and to explicitly quantify relationships between variables using sensitivity analyses. An aquatic macrophyte-based IBI developed for Minnesota lakes was used as an example. The study was particularly interested in the usefulness of neural networks to highlight key predictors of IBI performance and to be used as a technique to evaluate multimetric index performance in other systems or regions. Neural networks made accurate predictions of overall IBI scores using an independent dataset, whereas predictive performance of the models varied for individual metrics. Bootstrap analyses to evaluate the effects of different training data on model performance indicated that predictions were highly sensitive to the training data. More conventional modeling techniques, such as multiple regression, performed similarly in predicting IBI scores, although diagnostic tools developed for neural networks provided novel insight into variables influencing IBI response. We suggest that neural networks have the ability to quantify ecological relationships that affect biotic integrity, but the statistical uncertainty associated with multimetric indices may limit the use of predictive models to infer causation. Accordingly, the statistical properties of multimetric indices should be carefully evaluated during index development, with specific attention given to the diagnostic capabilities of individual metrics.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)195-208
Number of pages14
JournalEcological Indicators
StatePublished - Oct 2014

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Data were obtained from Minnesota Department of Natural Resources staff and volunteers in the Division of Fish and Wildlife, Division of Ecological and Water Resources, and the Shallow Lake Program. MNDNR funding for lake surveys was provided by the Minnesota Game and Fish Fund , the Minnesota Environment and Natural Resources Trust Fund , and the Outdoor Heritage Fund , as recommended by the Lessard-Sams Outdoor Heritage Council. M. Beck was funded by MNDNR using Clean Water Legacy funds appropriated by the Minnesota Legislature and an Interdisciplinary Doctoral Fellowship provided by the Graduate School at the University of Minnesota.

Copyright 2014 Elsevier B.V., All rights reserved.


  • Bootstrap
  • Index of Biotic Integrity
  • Lake
  • Metric
  • Neural network
  • Variable importance


Dive into the research topics of 'Application of neural networks to quantify the utility of indices of biotic integrity for biological monitoring'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this