European river plant communities: the importance of organic pollution and the usefulness of existing macrophyte metrics

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The macrophyte surveys undertaken as part of the EU-funded STAR project are a unique resource allowing aquatic plant communities to be studied at a Pan-European scale (211 stream sites with macrophytes in 14 countries). Using this dataset, we examined the influence of organic pollution in relation to other environmental correlates of river plant community variation across Europe. We examined the relationships between several existing macrophyte metrics and nutrient enrichment, and we also explored the possibility of developing a pan-European macrophyte-based assessment system. We showed that trophic (nutrient) status is an important driver of aquatic plant communities in European rivers. We found that while most existing macrophyte metrics are useful, none can be applied at a pan-European scale in their current form. Our attempt to redesign the Mean Trophic Rank (MTR) index by the addition of further species, and the re-scoring of existing species, resulted in a considerable improvement in the relationship between MTR scores and nutrient variables. We conclude that an enlarged core group of macrophyte species can form part of an improved pan-European macrophyte-based bioassessment system, although regional modifications may be required to adequately describe the nutrient status of certain stream types.

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