Investigating Historical and Contemporary Land Cover Effects on Macroinvertebrate Communities and Water Quality of Virginia Piedmont Streams

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Virginia Tech

I investigated the relationships between historical and contemporary land cover and macroinvertebrate communities, water quality, and nutrient levels in 10 streams in a historically agricultural region of the Virginia Piedmont. Historical (1963) and contemporary (2011) impervious surface, open area, and forested cover were evaluated using aerial photos and GIS data. Macroinvertebrates were collected in the fall of 2012 and spring of 2013. Water quality parameters (temperature, conductivity, alkalinity, hardness, and DO) and nutrient concentrations (NH3+NH4, PO4-P, NO3-N, Cl, and SO4) were measured at each site. Overall, forest cover decreased by 6.29%, open area decreased by 1.46%, and impervious surface increased by 4.83% from 1963 to 2011. Macroinvertebrate communities were explored using Principal Coordinates Analysis and were found to be significantly related to 2011 percent impervious surface. Water quality parameters were not significantly related to contemporary or historical land cover. Nitrate was negatively related with 2011 forest cover and positively related with 2011 open area; chloride was positively related with 2011 impervious surface and negatively related with 2011 open area. For the 10 watersheds included in this study, contemporary land cover is a better predictor of macroinvertebrate assemblages and nutrient concentrations than historical land cover.

land cover, benthic macroinvertebrates, Piedmont, GIS