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Development of a Bacterial Community Index

Our research has resulted in the development of a bacterial community index (BCI) for assessment of stream health.

The ecological condition of rivers and streams in New Zealand is often assessed by analysing macroinvertebrate and fish communities. Because macroinvertebrates live for a year or more and do not move far, they are continuously affected by environmental changes and stresses, and their communities can thus act as ongoing indicators of stream health. Our research indicates that bacterial biofilm communities have similar traits, meaning that biofilms may be used as integrative ecological indicators of stream health.

Using PCR-based community fingerprinting techniques, we have developed a bacterial community index (BCI) method for assessment of stream health. The BCI method is based upon a lower trophic level than macroinvertebrate or fish-based indices, and has a number of potential advantages:

  • Responses to environmental stressors can often be observed earlier at lower trophic levels
  • The BCI offers more discrimination at poor quality sites than invertebrate or fish indicators
  • The BCI is not limited to measuring responses only to organic pollution, unlike the macroinvertebrate index
  • Biofilm sample sizes are small, allowing many replicates to be taken from sample sites
  • Biofilm sample collection creates minimal site disturbance, which allows repeated sampling at sites with no recovery periods required
  • Biofilm samples can be collected from sites where other indicators (invertebrates or fish) are not present
  • Collection of biofilm samples is straightforward and requires almost no technical expertise
  • Processing and analysis of biofilm samples is relatively quick, efficient and inexpensive

A preliminary BCI has been developed based upon biofilm samples obtained from throughout the Auckland (New Zealand) region. This is being followed up with an extensive evaluation programme involving collection and analysis of 1500 samples from 300 streams in a variety of urban, rural, agricultural and forested catchments throughout New Zealand.

 

 

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Stream Biofilm Research Group
School of Biological Sciences
The University of Auckland
3a Symonds Street
Auckland, New Zealand
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streambiofilmgmail.com

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© Stream Biofilm Project, The University of Auckland 2008-2010
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