Using bioindicators to develop a calibrated index of regional ecological integrity for forested headwater ecosystems

EPA Grant Number: R825866
Title: Using bioindicators to develop a calibrated index of regional ecological integrity for forested headwater ecosystems
Investigators: Brooks, Robert P. , Master, Terry L. , Mulvihill, Robert S.
Current Investigators: Brooks, Robert P. , Laubscher, Susan E. , Master, Terry L. , Mulvihill, Robert S. , OConnell, Timothy J.
Institution: Pennsylvania State University , East Stroudsburg University of Pennsylvania , Powdermill Nature Reserve
EPA Project Officer: Hahn, Intaek
Project Period: June 1, 1998 through May 31, 2001 (Extended to September 30, 2002)
Project Amount: $850,000
RFA: Ecosystem Indicators (1997) RFA Text |  Recipients Lists
Research Category: Ecological Indicators/Assessment/Restoration , Ecosystems


We propose to use three integrative bioindicators to develop an index of regional ecological integrity for forested riparian ecosystems: 1) avian productivity, primarily for the Louisiana waterthrush, 2) macroinvertebrate communities, and 3) avian communities. Previous studies suggest that each of these bioindicators is directly related to the ecological condition of its associated habitat components at one or more scales (e.g., in-stream conditions, riparian habitat, and landscape patterns). Two of these bioindicators, macroinvertebrate and avian communities, have become established as useful predictors of instream conditions and landscape pattern, respectively. The third bioindicator, Louisiana waterthrush productivity, density, and abundance, provides a means to link the other two, and is the primary focus of this study.


We hypothesize that differences in a series of population, community, or habitat measures will discriminate, in a predictable way, between reference and impacted sites across multiple scales, and that the observed differences will be consistent across a regional gradient. From this intensive work, more easily measured indicators can be combined reliably into an index of regional ecological integrity for forested riparian ecosystems.


We will conduct intensive field sampling in headwater streams and riparian habitats over three years within three ecoregions in the MAIA that are geographically separate. Data analyses will compare bioindicators and their habitats in reference watersheds (3 per ecoregion) and impacted watersheds (3 per ecoregion). Issues of scale (e.g., 2.5 ha/territory, 25 ha/reach, 250 ha/watershed, and 2,500 ha/landscape) will be considered explicitly.

Expected Results:

We will determine how environmental stressors, prevalent in the region, affect the presence, abundance, and productivity of bird and macroinvertebrate populations at multiple scales. Relationships between the bioindicators and the condition of their respective habitats at multiple scales will be clearly established. Based on these findings, a set of measures will be selected for inclusion in an index of regional ecological integrity that can be used for assessing the ecological integrity of riparian ecosystems in the Mid-Atlantic region.

Publications and Presentations:

Publications have been submitted on this project: View all 40 publications for this project

Journal Articles:

Journal Articles have been submitted on this project: View all 1 journal articles for this project

Supplemental Keywords:

ecosystem indicators, ecological integrity, mid-Atlantic, macroinvertibrate, avian, RFA, Scientific Discipline, Geographic Area, Water, Ecosystem Protection/Environmental Exposure & Risk, Water & Watershed, Ecosystem/Assessment/Indicators, Ecosystem Protection, State, Monitoring/Modeling, Ecological Effects - Environmental Exposure & Risk, Ecological Risk Assessment, Watersheds, Ecological Indicators, bioindicator, forested headwater ecosystems, landscape indicator, stressors, avian productivity, biodiversity, macroinvertebrates, ecosystem indicators, regional scale, Louisiana (LA), aquatic ecosystems, water quality, forested watershed

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Progress and Final Reports:

  • 1998
  • 1999 Progress Report
  • 2000 Progress Report
  • 2001 Progress Report
  • Final Report