The assessment of fine sediment accumulation in rivers using macro-invertebrate community response

Increased fine sediment deposition and entrainment in rivers can arise from a combination of factors including low flows, habitat modification and excessive sediment delivery from the catchment. Physical and visual methods have traditionally been used to quantify the volume of deposited fine sediment (<2mm in size), but here we propose an alternative, the development and utilization of a sediment-sensitive macro-invertebrate metric (PSI - Proportion of Sediment-sensitive Invertebrates) which provides a proxy to describe the extent to which the surface of river beds are composed of, or covered by, fine sediments. Where suitable biomonitoring data exists, the index can be calculated retrospectively to track trends in fine sediment deposition, and its ecological impact, through time. Furthermore, the utilization of reference condition models such as RIVPACS (River InVertebrate Prediction And Classification System), allows site-specific unimpacted conditions to be defined, opening-up the possibility of standard classification and assessment systems being developed. In Europe, such systems are vital if the Water Framework Directive is to be implemented. Knowledge regarding spatial differences in sediment/flow interdependencies may provide valuable information on diffuse sources of fine sediment to rivers and we illustrate this with an example from the UK (Laceby Beck). Further UK case studies are presented to show a range of applications, including the demonstration of improvements in habitat heterogeneity following river restoration (rivers Chess and Rib) and the detection of fine sediment impacts downstream of an impoundment (Eye Brook). The PSI metric offers a readily deployable, cost-effective and hydroecologically relevant methodology for the assessment of fine sediment impacts in rivers. The technique has potential for application outside of the UK and an adaptation of the methodology for use in the Simandou Mountains (Guinea) is used to illustrate this.