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Ecological Impacts of Human Activity on River Channels: the effects of water quality on species numbers and diversity.

Ecological Impacts of Human Activity on River Channels: the effects of water quality on species numbers and diversity.

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An essay for the 2011 Undergraduate Awards Competition by grainne corrigan. Originally submitted for Geography at National University of Ireland Maynooth, with lecturer Dr Ro Charlton in the category of Physical Sciences
An essay for the 2011 Undergraduate Awards Competition by grainne corrigan. Originally submitted for Geography at National University of Ireland Maynooth, with lecturer Dr Ro Charlton in the category of Physical Sciences

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Published by: Undergraduate Awards on Aug 29, 2012
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02/22/2014

 
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Ecological Impacts of Human Activity on River Channels: the effects of waterquality on species numbers and diversity.
Aim:
The aim of this project is to establish if human activity impacts on the ecological effects of water quality on species numbers and diversity, specifically when considering what happenswhen the river channel is altered through human engineering.With this in mind it is necessary to study a river reach which possesses a section of naturalriver channel, an engineered channel, followed by a natural channel. The study will entaildiscovering the different fluvial features of each of the three channels, the water quality andthe diversity of species found in them. The data will then be analysed, detecting differencesbetween the channels, specifically the two natural channels against the engineered channel.
Introduction and background information
Habitat diversity is essential for biological communities, of both flora and fauna. Eachhabitat is created by physical conditions along the riparian corridor. Habitats and microhabitats within the stream are “...defined by channel morphology, bed and bank sediment,flow regime, sediment transport rates, in-channel and riparian vegetation, and woodydebris,” as argued by Dr Ro Charlton (2008: 182). A single micro invertebrate may usedifferent habitats for different life stages from hatching to maturity throughout its life cycle(Williams, Whitfield, Biggs, Bray, Fox, Nicolet and Sear. 2003). Macro-invertebrates arestudied as they are a good indicator of changes within a river channel and in ecosystem
 
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function. They are half way between micro-organisms and higher plants and animals(Hodkinson, Jackson 2005). Water characteristics include riffles and pools (fishermen termsfor water stretches along a river, Charlton 2008), these features mark specific locations of differing substrata of the river bed, the diversity of the substrata features demonstrate thepresence of diversities of habitats. The pools are deeper portions of the stream where theflow is slower, while the riffles are shallower with fast, turbulent water passing over gravel,cobbles and rocks. Macro-invertebrates require adequate interstitial spaces such as thosefound in gravel, cobbles and boulders (Karr and Dudley 1980). Turbulent water helpsmaintain dissolved oxygen within the water by creating a larger surface area of water airinteraction. The dissolved oxygen parameter in water is paramount to the survival of macroinvertebrates yet, the ecosystem must be looked at as a whole (ibid 1980: 59), and “...highwater quality may fail to produce a water resource with high biotic integrity if suitablephysical habitats are absent.”
 
River channels support many species of flora and fauna as part of riparian zones. Pretty,Harrison, Shepherd, Smith, Hildrew and Hey (2003) argue that the healthier the riverchannel, the greater the number and diversity of species found in it. Gorman and Karr(1978) argue, the greater the number of habitat diversity, the greater the species numberand diversity will be present, this in turn follows the theory of Mac Arthur and Mac Arthur(1961, and Mac Arthur 1964) that bird species and diversity increases with greater variety of vegetation habitat. Likewise Rosenzweig and Winakur (1969) argue that mammal speciesnumbers and diversity increase with habitat availability.
 
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Methodology
 The aim of this project is to select a suitable site, identify sub sites along the river reach, andbuild up the site profile, identifying fluvial features and the species diversity and numberswithin each location. By comparing and contrasting the statistical data it is possible toevaluate the ecological impact of the human activity on the biota present. The team (fourthird year geography students, me included) chose the site following certain criteria:
 
Within a fifteen minute drive of the College Campus.
 
Accessible without endangering team members.
 
Permission received (Appendix 1.)
 
to enter the land surrounding the riparian corridorknowing exactly what we proposed to do.
 
Site possessed a manmade watercourse built as part of a local stone and brick roadbridge, hence the stream features, flora and fauna could be examined upstream of this feature, on the actual concrete water course, and downstream of this feature.
 
Safety rules were recognised amongst the group and agreed to, following guide linesdrawn up by the University: Department of Geography, NUI (
name with held
) Fieldwork Guidelines for Students, an official set of guide lines which all students of theteam had previously signed and returned to the Geography Department.In order to compare and contrast the three sites a value is given to species (flora and fauna)and characteristics found within the stream riparian zone. For flora and fauna the scoringsystem used was that of the FSC field guide similar to the Small Stream Risk Score (SSRS)Method Manual (Walsh 2005). By giving the qualitative data a quantitative value it ispossible to present the data in histogram, pie chart format, giving an immediate visualrepresentation of results. This scoring method is explained in Appendix 2.

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