Relation of periphyton and benthic invertebrate communities to environmental factors and land use at selected sites in part of the upper Mississippi River basin, 1996-98

Water-Resources Investigations Report 2003-4121

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The Upper Mississippi River Basin is one of the hydrologic systems selected for study by the National Water-Quality Assessment (NAWQA) Program of the U.S. Geological Survey. NAWQA utilizes a multi-disciplinary approach to explain factors that affect water quality. Part of the NAWQA design addresses the relation of land use and environmental factors to periphyton and benthic invertebrate communities in streams.

This report focuses on a 122,000 square kilometer area of the Mississippi River Basin, including the Twin Cities metropolitan area (TCMA). The northeastern part of the study area is forested, the southwestern part is agricultural, and the central part is transitional between forest and agriculture. Sampling sites were selected based on a process that identified small streams in predominantly forested, agricultural, and urban settings, and large river sites on the Mississippi River and major tributaries. Periphyton and benthic invertebrate communities were evaluated at each site. Compared to the forested site, periphyton density and biovolume in small streams generally increased as nutrient concentrations associated with urban and agricultural land use increased. Periphyton communities varied within agricultural and urban streams, indicating that physical and chemical factors other than land use also affect periphyton communities.

Benthic invertebrate communities also are affected by land use and associated stream habitat. There were few intolerant taxa (Ephemeroptera and Plecoptera) in urban streams, potentially due to high streamflow variability and contaminants from runoff. Ephemeroptera taxa richness was greatest in the agricultural streams. The most abundant Ephemeroptera taxa were those tolerant to high concentrations of suspended sediment. Richness of Plecoptera and Trichoptera taxa were greatest in the forested stream. Biological communities in the St. Croix and Minnesota River generally reflected relatively homogeneous land uses.

Biological communities in the Mississippi River reflected changes in water quality and physical habitat as the Minnesota and St. Croix Rivers join the Mississippi River. Periphyton density and biovolume, and the relative abundance of blue-green algae density increased in the Mississippi River at the confluence compared to the Minnesota and St. Croix Rivers. Relative abundance of benthic invertebrate taxa richness and diversity generally decreased downstream in the large rivers as urban and agricultural land use become more prevalent. Impoundments and dredging of the Mississippi River in and downstream from the TCMA exacerbate effects of increasing river size to produce a more lake-like system.

Study Area

Additional publication details

Publication type:
Publication Subtype:
USGS Numbered Series
Relation of periphyton and benthic invertebrate communities to environmental factors and land use at selected sites in part of the upper Mississippi River basin, 1996-98
Series title:
Water-Resources Investigations Report
Series number:
Year Published:
U.S. Geological Survey
Publisher location:
Mounds View, MN
Contributing office(s):
Minnesota Water Science Center
vi, 41 p.
United States
Iowa, Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota, Wisconsin
Other Geospatial:
Upper Mississippi River Basin
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