A Watershed Classification System and Geomorphic Tool to Predict Habitat Variables in the Western Allegheny Plateau Ecoregion: Toward Refined Biocriteria and Stressor Identification of Impaired Streams

EPA Grant Number: R831365
Title: A Watershed Classification System and Geomorphic Tool to Predict Habitat Variables in the Western Allegheny Plateau Ecoregion: Toward Refined Biocriteria and Stressor Identification of Impaired Streams
Investigators: Rankin, Edward
Current Investigators: Rankin, Edward , Amaning, Kwarteng , Carlson, Bill , Clust, Mike , Doyle, Brian , Dyer, James , Hollingsworth, Emily , Johnson, Kelli , Johnson, Kelly , King, Lisa , Kinney, Chad , Larkins, Clayton , Lopez, Dina , Meyer, Christine , Morman, Tracy , North, Sheila , Renner, Jared , Smucker, Nate , Springer, Gregory , Stoertz, Mary , Stuart, Ben , Verb, Bob , Vis-Chiasson, Morgan , Yoder, Chris , Zalack, Jason
Institution: Ohio University - Main Campus
EPA Project Officer: Hiscock, Michael
Project Period: October 1, 2005 through September 30, 2007 (Extended to September 30, 2009)
Project Amount: $869,440
RFA: Development of Watershed Classification Systems for Diagnosis of Biological Impairment in Watersheds and Their Receiving Water Bodies (2003) RFA Text |  Recipients Lists
Research Category: Water and Watersheds , Water


  1. Develop a watershed classification system to explain variations in reference biological assemblages and physical and chemical conditions in wadeable streams of the Western Appalachian Plateau (WAP) ecoregion in terms of both geographically dependent and geographically independent variables (e.g., Level IV ecoregion and gradient).
  2. Develop refined biological criteria from these reference sites to better diagnose impairment.
  3. Develop and test a model to predict habitat quality from geomorphic attributes.
  4. Identify major stressors and their threshold levels using post hoc analysis.
  5. Demonstrate the classification system, refined biocriteria, and stressor diagnosis methodology on a monitored watershed and a non-monitored watershed in the WAP ecoregion by comparing expected conditions to those identified as impaired.
  6. Integrate the applications resulting from this research into existing water resource management programs in the WAP ecoregion and disseminate information about them outside the WAP.


During Phase I, we will use exploratory multivariate analyses on a large existing reference site dataset to relate natural variation in biological assemblages to a suite of landscape, geomorphological, and site-specific physical features. The resulting classification system will be tested in a separate verification dataset. During Phase II, we will independently develop a model that predicts habitat quality (HQ) for second to fifth order streams from geomorphic metrics. In Phase III we will use integrated impact analysis (IIA) methodology to construct a three-dimensional model for response variables and major stressor for each classification category. Two watersheds will be selected for further data collection to verify the results and to demonstrate the applicability of the classification and geomorphic tools to stressor diagnosis.

Expected Results:

The proposed research will: a) produce a practical classification system to explain variation in biological community health at reference sites in the WAP ecoregion; b) provide the rationale for refined biocriteria and also for developing ambient targets for water chemistry and habitat parameters from these regions; and c) identify major stressors and their thresholds within each classification category and develop a geomorphic tool to interpret natural habitat variation. In addition to providing assistance to water resource managers, the classification system will be a conceptual model to drive further research into understanding the mechanisms underlying the impairment of biological assemblages.

Publications and Presentations:

Publications have been submitted on this project: View all 20 publications for this project

Supplemental Keywords:

reference condition, remotely sensed data, land use, land cover, valley segment type (VST), IBI, ICI, QHEI, RFA, Scientific Discipline, Water, ECOSYSTEMS, Ecosystem Protection/Environmental Exposure & Risk, Water & Watershed, Monitoring/Modeling, Environmental Monitoring, Terrestrial Ecosystems, Ecology and Ecosystems, Watersheds, ecosystem modeling, watershed classification, wetlands, aquatic ecosystem, monitoring, biodiversity, natural resource management, watershed, conservation, geomorphic tool, integrated watershed model, aquatic ecosystems, ecosystem restoration, ecological indicators, ecology assessment models, watershed assessment, ecological models, predicting habitat variables, biological impairment

Progress and Final Reports:

  • 2005 Progress Report
  • 2006 Progress Report
  • 2007
  • 2008
  • Final