We developed an integrated hydroecological model to provide a comprehensive set of hydrologic variables representing five major components of the flow regime at 856 aquatic-invertebrate monitoring sites in New Jersey. The hydroecological model simulates streamflow by routing water that moves overland and through the subsurface from atmospheric delivery to the watershed outlet. Snow accumulation and melt, evapotranspiration, precipitation, withdrawals, discharges, pervious- and impervious-area runoff, and lake storage were accounted for in the water balance. We generated more than 78 flow variables, which describe the frequency, magnitude, duration, rate of change, and timing of flow events. Highly correlated variables were filtered by principal component analysis to obtain a non-redundant subset of variables that explain the majority of the variation in the complete set. This subset of variables was used to evaluate the effect of changes in the flow regime on aquatic-invertebrate assemblage structure at 856 biomonitoring sites. We used non-metric multidimensional scaling (NMS) to evaluate variation in aquatic-invertebrate assemblage structure across a disturbance gradient. We employed multiple linear regression (MLR) analysis to build a series of MLR models that identify the most important environmental and hydrologic variables driving the differences in the aquatic-invertebrate assemblages across the disturbance gradient. The first axis of NMS ordination was significantly related to many hydrologic, habitat, and land-use/land-cover variables, including the average number of annual storms producing runoff, ratio of 25-75% exceedance flow (flashiness), diversity of natural stream substrate, and the percentage of forested land near the stream channel (forest buffer). Modifications in the hydrologic regime as the result of changes in watershed land use appear to promote the retention of highly tolerant aquatic species; in contrast, species that are sensitive to hydrologic instability and other anthropogenic disturbance become much less prevalent. We also found strong relations between an index of invertebrate-assemblage impairment, its component metrics, and the primary disturbance gradient. The process-oriented watershed modeling approach used in this study provides a means to evaluate how natural landscape features interact with anthropogenic factors and assess their effects on flow characteristics and stream ecology. By combining watershed modeling and indirect ordination techniques, we were able to identify components of the hydrologic regime that have a considerable effect on aquatic-assemblage structure and help in developing short- and long-term management measures that mitigate the effects of anthropogenic disturbance in stream systems.
Additional publication details
Use of an integrated flow model to estimate ecologically relevant hydrologic characteristics at stream biomonitoring sites