Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository

Degree

Master of Science

Program

Geography

Supervisor

Dr. Adam G. Yates

Abstract

Farmers have been encouraged to adopt more sustainable farming practices (BMPs) that mitigate adverse agricultural effects on the natural environment. However, the ability of BMPs to protect or restore riverine systems continues to be questioned due to limited evidence directly linking BMP use with improved ecological conditions. The exclusion of hydrological pathways in previous field studies may explain why a direct link has not yet been established. The goal of this study was to assess the association between benthic macroinvertebrate community structure and the number and location of agricultural BMPs. Macroinvertebrates and water chemistry were sampled in 30 headwater catchments in the Grand River Watershed. Catchments exhibited gradients of BMP use and location as measured by the degree of hydrologic connectedness. Stepwise ordination regressions and variance partitioning were used to determine which environmental variables (i.e., BMP metrics, water chemistry parameters, habitat characteristics, and land use variables) were associated with benthic macroinvertebrate community structure. Water chemistry parameters were negatively associated with BMP metrics suggesting BMPs were mitigating losses of nutrients and sediments. However, BMP abundance and location explained minimal variation in benthic macroinvertebrate structure within the 30 sampled catchments. The absence of a strong association between BMPs and benthic macroinvertebrates may indicate a need for greater numbers and targeted siting of BMPS to improve water quality beyond a threshold point that would allow recolonization of intolerant invertebrate taxa. Focusing of conservation goals on ecological conditions and the promotion of BMPs that enhance in-stream habitat may also be required.