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Ecological Applications



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Water resources managers and conservation biologists need reliable, quantitative, and directly comparable methods for assessing the biological integrity of the world's aquatic ecosystems. Large-scale assessments are constrained by the lack of consistency in the indicators used to assess biological integrity and our current inability to translate between indicators. In theory, assessments based on estimates of taxonomic completeness, i.e., the proportion of expected taxa that were observed (observed/expected, O/E) are directly comparable to one another and should therefore allow regionally and globally consistent summaries of the biological integrity of freshwater ecosystems. However, we know little about the true comparability of O/E assessments derived from different data sets or how well O/E assessments perform relative to other indicators in use. I compared the performance (precision, bias, and sensitivity to stressors) of O/E assessments based on five different data sets with the performance of the indicators previously applied to these data (three multimetric indices, a biotic index, and a hybrid method used by the state of Maine). Analyses were based on data collected from U.S. stream ecosystems in North Carolina, the Mid-Atlantic Highlands, Maine, and Ohio. O/E assessments resulted in very similar estimates of mean regional conditions compared with most other indicators once these indicators' values were standardized relative to reference-site means. However, other indicators tended to be biased estimators of O/E, a consequence of differences in their response to natural environmental gradients and sensitivity to stressors. These results imply that, in some cases, it may be possible to compare assessments derived from different indicators by standardizing their values (a statistical approach to data harmonization). In situations where it is difficult to standardize or otherwise harmonize two or more indicators, O/E values can easily be derived from existing raw sample data. With some caveats, O/E should provide more directly comparable assessments of biological integrity across regions than is possible by harmonizing values of a mix of indicators. Read More: