A new fish-based index of biotic integrity for lowland rivers in Flanders (Belgium)

Jan Breine, Ericia Van den Bergh, Gerlinde Van Thyune, Claude Belpaire

Abstract


The first fish-based index to assess the ecological quality of lowland rivers in Flanders (Belgium) is based on data obtained from different fishing techniques without considering the gear specificity. As a consequence, this index could not be intercalibrated with other European indices which concentrate on one gear type only. In order to comply with the European Water Framework Directive, we developed a new fish-based index using data obtained from surveys in rivers with electric gear only. All 293 selected rivers belonged to the bream or barbel zone. An updated reference list of fish species was compiled based on previous work and recent data. Abiotic data were collected according to standard methods and habitat quality of all surveyed sites was pre-classified using pressure indicators. To develop the new index candidate metrics were selected from the literature and metric values were calculated. Linear mixed regression models selected metrics based on their response to the pre-classified habitat status. Correlation tests were performed to avoid redundancy among responsive metrics. Boundaries for metric scores were defined based on the calculated metric values. The new index of biotic integrity (IBI) was calculated by summation of the metric scores, and transformed to an ecological quality ratio (EQR), ranging between 0 and 1. Five integrity classes, ranging from bad to maximal ecological potential, were attributed and compared to the pre-classified habitat status of the site. In addition, the new index was also validated with an independent set of data. The new IBI proved to successfully assess the ecological status of the rivers.

Keywords


multimetric fish-based index; fish reference list; functional guilds; lowland rivers; European Water Framework Directive

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DOI: https://doi.org/10.26496/bjz.2021.89

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