Bryce, Sandra A., David P. Larsen, Robert M. Hughes, and Philip R. Kaufmann. 1999. Assessing relative risks to aquatic ecosystems: a Mid-Appalachian case study. Journal of the American Water Resources Association 35(1):23-36.
Aquatic monitoring aims to assess the condition of aquatic habitats and biota. To make statements about condition, the range of human activities and the risks they pose to aquatic ecosystems must be identified. Assessing relative risk and placing sample sites on a human disturbance gradient is necessary for interpreting biological response and distinguishing human disturbance from natural controls in aquatic systems. We describe a process that used readily available sources, such as topographic maps, aerial photographs, and field information, to identify and prioritize stream reach and watershed stressors for 102 streams in the mid-Appalachian region of the United States. All perceptible human alterations to riparian and upland areas along with their number, type, intensity, and extent of impact were recorded and ranked; a relative risk index was developed to assign scores to the watersheds. The resulting risk index scores were consistent with measures of stream condition based on water chemistry and benthic macroinvertebrates. The risk index gives a cost-effective, regional picture of the relative risk of impairment to aquatic ecosystems in the mid-Appalachian region of the USA and could be modified for other regions or ecosystem types.