Date of Award




Document Type

Master's Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Science (MS)


Department of Biological Sciences

Content Description

1 online resource (vii, 49 pages) : color illustrations, color maps

Dissertation/Thesis Chair

George Robinson

Committee Members

Alexander J Smith, Douglas A Burns


assessment, headwater streams, macroinvertebrate, multimetric index, water quality, Water quality biological assessment, Freshwater invertebrates, Ephemeral streams

Subject Categories

Biology | Water Resource Management


The River Continuum Concept describes the structural and functional shift that occurs from sensitive headwater streams to the lowest reaches of large, non-wadeable rivers. New York State (NYS) maintains a long-established biological monitoring program using macroinvertebrate community assemblages for water quality assessment. However, headwater streams are rarely assessed, and no reference models are available, except those calibrated for lower-continuum wadeable streams and rivers. Current patterns of rural landuse change emphasize the need for more accurate assessment of previously neglected headwaters, in order to set natural reference standards for more accurate assessments of water quality. Ecoregion, drainage area (DA), elevation (elev.), and wetland landcover were found to be the most influential variables and were used to define headwater conditions. Results indicate at least four biologically distinct headwater regions within NYS, each with a unique combination of watershed characteristics. New metric thresholds based on models of community structure and function were developed for headwaters in the Catskills (DA <16 km2, elev.>1200 ft) and Allegheny Plateau (DA<36 km2, elev.>1200 ft). Unique conditions in the Croton headwaters (DA<16 km2) and Adirondack wetland headwaters (DA<88 km2) , wetland landcover>5%) necessitated alternate interim approaches that require further assessment. Defining and assessing headwater streams will bring NYS in line with other northeastern states and provide greater protection for its high-quality water resources.