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Some of Our Current Projects

Idaho Department of Environmental Quality

Analysis of periphyton (algae) in streams can provide important information regarding the biological health of stream ecosystems that complements information derived from macroinvertebrates or fish. For example, periphyton species are known to be more sensitive to some stressors (e.g., nutrients) than either invertebrates or fish. We are collaborating with staff of the Idaho DEQ to develop an assessment tool based on the extent to which observed periphyton assemblages differ from that expected under minimal pollution or other human-caused stress. As part of this project we will determine the effectiveness of at least two different bioassessment methods: multimetric indices and predictive models.

U. S. Environmental Protection Agency, Regions 8 and 10

We are aiding state agency scientists and managers to develop and/or refine methods for assessing the biological condition of streams and rivers in several western States. This work involves assessment of data comparability, selection of reference sites if needed, development of predictive models, and comparisons of predictive model assessments with those based on other methods.

U. S. Environmental Protection Agency, Science to Achieve Results (STAR)

This major research project is designed to determine which types of watershed classification systems are most effective in detecting biological impairment (bioassessment), assessing conservation value of stream ecosystems, and prioritizing streams for restoration. A main objective of the project is to test the hypothesis that it is possible to distinguish biological degradation associated with changes in nutrients, habitat, hydrology, and temperature from one another by comparing the specific biota observed at a disturbed site to the responses biota are expected to exhibit to alteration in each of these four major environmental factors. To address the different objectives in this project, USU scientists are collaborating with scientists from Michigan State University and The Nature Conservancy.

U. S. Environmental Protection Agency, Science to Achieve Results (STAR)

Effective bioassessments depend on accurate and precise identification of the biological conditions expected at a potentially polluted waterbody. These expectations are typically derived from samples taken at a series of reference sites - i.e., sites that have been minimally impaired by past land use and other management activities. An important aspect of deriving expected conditions is classification of reference sites, which is supposed to account for or control naturally occurring variation in biota. Failure to account for natural variation leads to development of imprecise or biased expectations. This project is designed to determined which of several discrete classification approaches (e.g., ecoregions, thermal strata, geology, watersheds) are most effective in accounting for natural variation in both stream invertebrates and algae. We are also determining if modeling responses of biota to variation in natural environmental features is more effective than discrete classification approaches. The study area includes 13 western states.

U. S. Forest Service, Region 6 Research Station

Developing land use management plans that protect sensitive species can be difficult when little is known about the habitat requirements and distribution of those species. We are collaborating with Forest Service scientists to develop predictive models that relate occurrence probabilities of the Larch Mountain salamander to easily measured landscape attributes. If successful, this model should save 1,000's of dollars that are currently spent on surveys that are required to determine if this species is present at sites targeted for management activities.

U. S. Forest Service, Region 6 Research Station

Current assessments of riparian condition are largely based on information derived from surveys of plant, birds and/or mammals, or aquatic assemblages. Most assessments rely on information from only one assemblage, which may lead to misleading conclusions regarding the overall health of an entire riparian ecosystem. We are collaborating with Forest Service scientists to develop statistical models that integrate information from multiple assemblages into an overall assessment of riparian condition.

Assessing Effects of Watershed and Stream Alteration on the Biological Integrity of Streams in Eastern Oregon and Washington

U. S. Forest Service, Region 6 Research Station

These two related projects were designed to develop a standardized assessment method that is applicable to stream ecosystems in all parts of Washington and Oregon. We are collaborating with scientists and managers from the US Forest Service, Washington Department of Ecology, and Oregon Department of Environmental Quality to develop RIVPACS-type predictive models of use to both federal and state water resources management agencies.

U. S. Environmental Protection Agency, Office of Science and Technology/Office of Water

U. S. Environmental Protection Agency, Office of Science and Technology/Office of Water

Several different methods have been developed to assess the biological condition of aquatic ecosystems, but we do not know how effective these methods are relative to one another. We are collaborating with scientists and managers from Maine, Ohio, North Carolina, Oregon, Washington, Idaho, and Arizona to quantify the effectiveness of different methods under different environmental settings.