Comparative application of indices of biotic integrity based on periphyton, macroinvertebrates, and fish to southern Rocky Mountain streams

Michael B. Griffith, Brian H. Hill, Frank H. McCormick, Philip R. Kaufmann, Alan T. Herlihy, Anthony R. Selle

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

135 Scopus citations


To assess the relative sensitivity of assessments using community metrics for macroinvertebrates, periphyton, and fish assemblages, we compared the results of three parallel assessments using these assemblages at 86 stream reaches sampled in 1994 and 1995 by the Regional Environmental Monitoring and Assessment Program (R-EMAP) in the mineralized zone or historical mining region of the Southern Rockies Ecoregion in Colorado. We contrasted assessments using community metrics for each taxa group selected to be diagnostic of the two large-scale stressor gradients identified in this ecoregion: discharges from historical hardrock metal mines and agriculture, particularly pasturing of livestock. While principal components analysis (PCA) extracted axes from the metrics for all three assemblages correlated with increased metal concentrations, the axes differed in their sensitivity to different environmental gradients. Two axes extracted from the fish metrics were correlated with dissolved metals, suspended solids, and sediment embeddedness or with sediment metals. Two axes extracted from the macroinvertebrate metrics partially separated these two stressor gradients, while the single correlated axis extracted from the periphyton metrics did not. The second macroinvertebrate PCA axis was correlated with an environmental gradient correlated both with agricultural effects and with stream size, as were the second and third periphyton PCA axes. The third fish PCA axis was correlated with stream size and slope, but was not sensitive to agricultural effects. Fish, macroinvertebrates, and periphyton differ in their sensitivity to different stressors, and combining metrics for these assemblages into a mixed assemblage index of biotic integrity may increase the utility of the multimetric approach to diagnose environmental stressors at impaired reaches.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)117-136
Number of pages20
JournalEcological Indicators
Issue number2
StatePublished - May 2005

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Field sampling design and data collection were funded by USEPA's Office of Research and Development as part of its Regional Environmental Monitoring and Assessment Programs. J. Lazorchak (USEPA, NERL, Cincinnati, OH) and P. Johnson (USEPA, Region 8, Denver, CO) coordinated the field work and analysis of the chemistry and macroinvertebrate samples and, along with W. Schroeder (USEPA, Region 8, Denver, CO), provided details on the sampling and analyses for water and sediment chemistry. C. Seeliger (USEPA, NHEERL, Corvallis, OR) helped with management of the physical environmental characteristics database. Comments by L. Yuan (USEPA, NCEA, Washington, DC), J. Lazorchak, S. Golladay (J.W. Jones Ecological Research Center, Newton, GA), I. Waite (USGS, WRD, Portland, OR), and an anonymous reviewer greatly improved the quality of the manuscript. Data analysis and preparation of this manuscript were supported in part by an appointment of the first author to the Postgraduate Research Program at the National Exposure Research Laboratory administered by the Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education through an interagency agreement between the U.S. Department of Energy and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and by an EPA cooperative agreement (CR824682) with Oregon State University. The views expressed in this paper are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views or policies of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.


  • Biotic indices
  • Community metrics
  • Fish
  • Macroinvertebrates
  • Periphyton
  • Southern Rockies Ecoregion
  • Streams


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