The Role of Taxonomic and Functional Macroinvertebrate Diversity as Indicators of Nutrient Pollution in Ohio Streams

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The Ohio State University

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Nutrient pollution of United States surface waters, primarily due to agricultural and urban runoff, is currently one of the biggest contributors to the impairment of aquatic ecosystems. Sensitivity of aquatic macroinvertebrates to environmental stressors (e.g. excess nutrients) has made them historic indicators of water quality. Taxonomic indices are commonly used to represent macroinvertebrate diversity, however, the use of functional traits as a diversity measure has become increasingly popular due to their ability to mechanistically link macroinvertebrate communities to environmental stressors. The objectives of this research project were to 1) quantify macroinvertebrate diversity across watersheds of varying land use (e.g. agricultural, forested, and mixed use) and 2) across watersheds, examine whether more variation in nutrients is explained by either taxonomic or functional macroinvertebrate diversity measures. I predicted that areas experiencing high nutrient pollution would have low diversity values (e.g. taxonomic and functional) while areas characterized by low to moderate nutrient pollution would have high functional and taxonomic diversity. I found that taxonomic diversity and richness did not significantly differ across watersheds, however, linear regressions revealed a positive and significant relationship between richness metrics and phosphorus concentrations. Functional feeding group richness differed significantly across watersheds and further analysis of functional groups provided insight as to potential environmental stressors impacting macroinvertebrate communities. Integration of functional metrics alongside taxonomic indices can help identify locations that have been negatively impacted by nutrient pollution and could help pinpoint areas in which management strategies would be most effective at improving the overall function of a watershed.


2018 College of Food Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences Undergraduate Research Forum Winner. Second Place.


biodiversity, nutrient pollution, diversity indices, macroinvertebrates, land use