6 - Ecological monitoring and assessment of pollution in rivers  pp. 126-146

Ecological monitoring and assessment of pollution in rivers

By J. Iwan Jones, John Davy-Bowker, John F. Murphy and James L. Pretty

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Introduction

Many organisms respond to pollution in a predictable way, and it has long been realised that the biota can be used to determine the extent of pollution at a site, a technique termed biomonitoring. Much of the science of biomonitoring developed in aquatic systems, driven by concerns about the impact of industrial and domestic pollution on potable water resources. Over the past century, aquatic biomonitoring has travelled a long way from the early methodologies, and much about the pitfalls and benefits of using biota to assess pollution or other stressors has been discovered. Here we describe the history of biomonitoring and how our understanding has developed, with particular focus on RIVPACS (River InVertebrate Prediction And Classification System). This system marked a major advance in biomonitoring techniques, introducing the reference condition approach, where the physical and geographical characteristics of the river were taken into account when determining what taxa would be expected to be present if the site were not polluted. Assessment of a site was then based on a comparison of the observed community and derived scores, to that expected if the site were not polluted. RIVPACS was also the first biomonitoring tool to incorporate a measure of uncertainty; any assessment is based on spatially and temporally variable samples and it is necessary to calculate the confidence associated with the quality class derived using these samples.

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