Describing the distribution of aquatic habitats and the health of biological communities can be costly and time-consuming; therefore, simple, inexpensive methods to scale observations of aquatic biota to watersheds that lack data would be useful. In this study, we explored the potential of a simple “hydrogeomorphic” model to predict the effects of acid deposition on macroinvertebrate, fish, and diatom communities in 28 sub-watersheds of the 176-km2 Neversink River basin in the Catskill Mountains of New York State. The empirical model was originally developed to predict stream-water acid neutralizing capacity (ANC) using the watershed slope and drainage density. Because ANC is known to be strongly related to aquatic biological communities in the Neversink, we speculated that the model might correlate well with biotic indicators of ANC response. The hydrogeomorphic model was strongly correlated to several measures of macroinvertebrate and fish community richness and density, but less strongly correlated to diatom acid tolerance. The model was also strongly correlated to biological communities in 18 sub-watersheds independent of the model development, with the linear correlation capturing the strongly acidic nature of small upland watersheds (<1 km2). Overall, we demonstrated the applicability of geospatial data sets and a simple hydrogeomorphic model for estimating aquatic biological communities in areas with stream-water acidification, allowing estimates where no direct field observations are available. Similar modeling approaches have the potential to complement or refine expensive and time-consuming measurements of aquatic biota populations and to aid in regional assessments of aquatic health.
Additional publication details
Hydrogeomorphology explains acidification-driven variation in aquatic biological communities in the Neversink Basin, USA