The influence of land use in a highly modified catchment: investigating the importance of scale in riverine health assessment

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Oeding, S, Taffs, KH, Cox, B, Reichelt-Brushett, A & Sullivan, C 2018, 'The influence of land use in a highly modified catchment: investigating the importance of scale in riverine health assessment', Journal of Environmental Management, vol. 206, pp. 1007-1019.

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Riverine landscapes are studied at varying scales, investigating the complex cause-effect pathways between rivers and their physical, chemical and biological attributes. Policy development, management and planning are often formulated and applied at the regional or catchment scale, however the ecological evidence required to inform at this scale is typically collected from the much smaller scale. This research was aimed at determining if patterns in diatom and macroinvertebrate community composition can be attributed to a specific/single land use in a catchment with multiple land uses. The impacts of forest, macadamia, grazing, sugar cane and urban land uses in the Richmond River Catchment of Northern NSW, Australia were investigated at 20 micro-catchment scale sites. A total of 124 diatom species from 43 genera, along with 92 families and three sub-families of macroinvertebrates, were collected and used to calculate the Richmond River Diatom Index (RRDI), AUSRIVAS and SIGNAL2 scores. Statistical analyses showed distinct groupings of land use categories providing evidence of cause-effect pathways attributed to individual land uses. The RRDI, AUSRIVAS and SIGNAL2 scores all showed distinctions between land use categories, though they were clearer in the RRDI. The RRDI indicated that the grazing sites had the poorest health of the land use categories, followed by sugar cane and urban while the macadamia and forest sites were relatively healthy. Signal 2 scores showed similar trends to the RRDI, while the AURIVAS scores did not present clear trends, particularly in the edge habitat of macadamia land use sites. The results indicated that riparian vegetation and instream habitat play an important role in attenuating inputs and that rehabilitation efforts could potentially improve water quality at a micro-catchment scale and subsequently, result in river health improvement at the catchment scale. The research collected at this micro-catchment scale presents new evidence that further informs and affects decisions made at the catchment scale, where policy and planning is developed and implemented.

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