A Biologically Driven National Classification Scheme for U.S. Streams and Rivers

EPA Grant Number: R829498
Title: A Biologically Driven National Classification Scheme for U.S. Streams and Rivers
Investigators: Herlihy, Alan T. , Hughes, Robert , Pan, Yangdong
Institution: Oregon State University , Portland State University
EPA Project Officer: Hiscock, Michael
Project Period: February 1, 2002 through January 31, 2005 (Extended to January 31, 2006)
Project Amount: $747,541
RFA: Development of National Aquatic Ecosystem Classifications and Reference Conditions (2001) RFA Text |  Recipients Lists
Research Category: Ecosystems , Water , Aquatic Ecosystems


Analyzing biological assemblage data at a national scale is extremely difficult and rarely attempted due to the problems of compiling the necessary database. We propose to compile, format, and validate all publically available stream ecological data from EPA's EMAP and REMAP projects into one 3,600 site national database. These data were all collected with the same field protocol, and sites were picked in a randomized, systematic fashion so they are representative of the study area. Our objectives are to 1) use the fish, macroinvertebrate, and periphyton assemblage data in EMAP's national database to develop 10-30 biologically-driven national "classes" of stream systems, 2) within each class, separate natural from anthropogenic effects on stream ecological condition, and 3) establish quantitative relationships between catchment and riparian condition and water body condition (structure and function).


A set of least disturbed reference sites will be screened from the combined national database using available water quality and habitat data. A multivariate cluster analysis of the reference sites will identify 10-30 clusters and a discriminant function analysis will then be conducted to identify the environmental factors that best predict class membership. Within each new biologically derived class in the entire database, we will use ordination analyses to identify the major gradients in the assemblage data and relate them to the measured physical and chemical habitat. This will help separate natural from anthropogenic effects and establish the major functional relationships between stream biota and stream condition for each class. For 2-4 of the classes, we will gather catchment land cover data from remote sensing to determine the scale and types of land use most related to the biological ordination in that class.

Expected Results:

Analyzing a combined national EMAP database provides a unique opportunity to study classification, ecological gradients, relationships, and reference conditions at a national scale. EMAP has generated a great deal of consistently collected data that have not been analyzed from a national perspective. After developing defensible ecological stressor-response models from the biotic and abiotic data, and using EMAP's existing biological condition indicators, we will be able to demonstrate patterns in biological condition across the USA. Such a demonstration will aid in justifying a national stream assessment should EPA and U.S. states choose to embark on one.

Publications and Presentations:

Publications have been submitted on this project: View all 44 publications for this project

Journal Articles:

Journal Articles have been submitted on this project: View all 4 journal articles for this project

Supplemental Keywords:

streams, rivers, fish, macroinvertebrates, periphyton, aquatic indicators, stream ecology, EMAP, classification, monitoring,, RFA, Scientific Discipline, Ecosystem Protection/Environmental Exposure & Risk, Aquatic Ecosystems & Estuarine Research, Hydrology, Aquatic Ecosystem, Ecology and Ecosystems, anthropogenic stress, bioassessment, classifying reference conditions, streams, anthropogenic impact, rivers, national classification system, aquatic ecosystems, water quality, biological indicators, ecological classification

Progress and Final Reports:

  • 2002 Progress Report
  • 2003 Progress Report
  • 2004 Progress Report
  • Final Report