Habitat and hydrology condition indices for the upper Mississippi, Missouri, and Ohio rivers

Debra L. Taylor, David W. Bolgrien, Ted R. Angradi, Mark S. Pearson, Brian H. Hill

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Scopus citations


Habitat and hydrology indices were developed to assess the conditions in reaches of the impounded Mississippi river, the Fort Peck and Garrison reaches of the upper Missouri river, the Missouri National Recreational river (MNRR), the channelized lower Missouri river, and the Ohio river. Data were obtained from field sampling, air photo interpretation, and U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) hydrologic records. Habitat and hydrology attributes were incorporated into four habitat indices (channel complexity, substrate quality, littoral cover, and riparian condition) and one hydrology index. Construction of habitat indices for these very large rivers was complicated by a lack of previous research demonstrating methods for choosing and weighting the metrics used to compose these indices. Many habitat metrics used to assess habitat quality in small rivers proved irrelevant or impractical for assessing habitat quality in the upper Mississippi, Missouri, and Ohio rivers. In addition, these very large rivers, unlike smaller streams, were subject to physical and hydrological alterations due to channelization, revetment, levees, and dams. Because of the lack of proven indicators of habitat condition in very large rivers, we began with a large number of measures of natural and anthropogenic stress, eliminating only those metrics that failed tests of range, redundancy, and correlation with longitudinal position along the river. The lock and low-head dam sequences on the impounded Mississippi and Ohio influenced both hydrological patterns and the resident fish community, with conditions recovering with increased distance below dams, until hydrology was once again altered by impoundment from a downriver dam. Channel complexity and hydrology indices displayed the highest correlations with a multimetric fish index, possibly because these indices integrated habitat condition over a larger scale than the transect- and site-scaled littoral cover and riparian indices. Data limitations prevented the calculation of a littoral cover and a channel complexity index for the upper Missouri and Ohio rivers, respectively.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)111-124
Number of pages14
JournalEcological Indicators
StatePublished - 2013

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We thank Marlys Cappaert and her team for information management support. Amanda Quisenberry conducted the air photo interpretations used in the channel complexity indices. The manuscript was improved by comments from Mary Ann Starus and four anonymous reviewers. Finally, we thank the crews who collected the field data. Data collection and analyses were wholly funded by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The information in this document has been reviewed by the National Health and Environmental Effects Research Laboratory and approved for publication. Contents do not necessarily reflect the views of the agency nor does the mention of trade names or commercial products constitute endorsement or recommendation for use.


  • Channel complexity
  • Great river
  • Habitat
  • Hydrology
  • Indices
  • Riparian
  • Substrate


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