Physical habitat assessment

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Physical habitat assessment


Hydromorphological assessment methods

Brief description

Physical habitat assessment methods aim to identify, survey and assess physical habitats and/or the overall functioning and conditions of rivers and streams. They are mainly applied at a local/reach scale, consider all the spatial components of a river corridor (channel, riparian area and floodplain), and assess the hydromorphological state at present time. We reviewed 72 methods belonging to this broad category (39 for European countries and 33 for non-European countries) (Table 1).

Strengths, limitation and gaps

Methods of physical habitat assessment aim to characterize the range of physical habitats, heterogeneity and structure of ecosystems. These methods have often a great ecological relevance. The main limitation is that these methods are not suitable to understand physical processes and causes of river alterations, because of a series of reasons, including the scale of investigation (too small), the survey resolution (too much accurate), the temporal scale (not taken into account), the variability of river systems (not covered).

Other relevant information

Summary tables of analyzed physical habitat assessement methods are available here:

- For European countries: File:1 EU.pdf

- For non European countries: File:1 nonEU.pdf

In the table we recorded whether the analyzed method considers or not a specific feature. Three options were considered: presence (tick), absence ( ), and probably assessed (PA), the latter indicating when there is an uncertainty concerning whether the feature is collected and/or when the feature may be indirectly obtained.

Table 1 lists the key and the analyzed references for methods of physical habitat assessment.

Table 1. Analyzed references for methods of phisical habitat assessment.


Barbour M. T., Gerritsen J., Snyder B. D. and Stribling J. B. (1999): Rapid Bioassessment Protocols for use in streams and wadeable rivers: periphyton, benthic macroinvertebrates, and fish. Second edition. EPA 841-B-99-002 U.S.

Buffagni A., Erba S., Ciampitiello M. (2005): Il rilevamento idromorfologici e degli habitat fluviali nel contesto della direttiva europea sulle acque (WFD): principi e schede di applicazione del metodo Caravaggio - Notiziario dei metodi analitici, 2, Istituto di Ricerca sulle Acque, CNR IRSA:32-34.

Bundi U., Peter A., Frutiger A., Hutte M., Liechti P. and Sieber U. (2000): Scientific base and modular concept for comprehensive assessment of streams in Switzerland. Hydrobiologia 422:477-487.

Clean Water Services, Watershed Management Division (Oregon) (2000): Tualatin River Basin Rapid Stream Assessment Technique (RSAT) - Watersheds 2000 Field Methods, Montgomery County Department of Environmental Protection; Department of Environmental Programs - Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments.

Crowe E. and Kudray G. (2003): Wetland assessment of the Whitewater watershed. Report to U.S. Bureau of Land Management, Malta Field Office. Montana Natural Heritage Program, Helena, 34 p.

van Dam O., Osté A.J., de Groot B., van Dorst M.A.M. (2007): Handboek Hydromorfologie. Monitoring en afleiding hydromorfologische parameters Kaderrichtlijn Water. Directoraat-generaal Rijkswaterstaat, Waterdienst/ Data- en ICT-Dienst, Lelystad/Delft. ISBN 9789036914512.

Davenport A.J., Gurnell A.M., Armitage P.D. (2004): Habitat survey and classification of urban rivers. River Research and Applications 20(6):687-704.

Davies N.M., Norris R.H. and Thoms M.C. (2000): Prediction and assessment of local stream habitat features using large-scale catchment characteristics. Freshwater Biology 45:343-369.

Environment Agency (2003): A refined geomorphological and floodplain component. River Habitat Survey FD 1921, GeoRHS fieldwork survey form and guidance manual. Warrington, DEFRA/EA Joint R&D – Project 11793, prepared by University of Newcastle.

Feld C.K. (2004): Identification and measure of hydromorphological degradation in Central European lowland streams. Hydrobiologia 516(1):69-90.

Goethals P. and De Pauw N. (2001): Development of a concept for integrated ecological river assessment in Flanders, Belgium. Journal of Limnology 60(Suppl.1):7-16.

Grzybowski M. and Endler Z. (2012): Ecomorphological evaluation of the Łyna river along the Kotovo-Ardapy section. Quaestiones Geographicae 31(1):51-65.

Harding J.S., Clapcott J.E., Quinn J.M., Hayes J.W., Joy M.K., Storey R.G., Greig J., Hay H.S., James T., Beech M.A., Ozane R., Meredith A.S. and Boothroyd I.K.G. (2009): Stream Habitat Assessment Protocols for wadeable rivers and streams of New Zealand, University of Canterbury.

(IDEQ) Idaho Department of Environmental Quality (2004): Beneficial use reconnaissance program field manual for streams (BURP). Beneficial Use Reconnaissance Program Technical Advisory Committee, Idaho Department of Environmental Quality, Boise, 186 p.

Ilnicki P., Górecki K., Grzybowski M., Krzemińska A., Lewandowski P. and Sojka M. (2010): Principles of hydromorphological surveys of Polish rivers. Journal of Water and Land Development 14:3-13.

Kamp U., Binder W. and Holzl K. (2007): River habitat monitoring and assessment in Germany. Environmental Monitoring and Assessment 127(1-3):209-226.

Kansas Deptartment of Wildlife and Parks (KDWP) (2004): Subjective evaluation of aquatic habitats. Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks, Environmental Services Section. Topeka, 28 p.

Kasich, J., M. Taylor and Nally S. (2012): Field Evaluation Manual for Ohio's Primary Headwater Habitat Streams. vol Version 3.0, Ohio EPA, 117 p.

Kaufmann P.R, Levine P., Robison E.G., Seeliger C. and Peck D.V. (1999): Quantifying Physical Habitat in Wadeable Streams. EPA/620/R-99/003. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Washington D.C.

Kleynhans C.J., Louw M.D. and Graham M. (2008): Module G: EcoClassification and EcoStatus determination. In: Kleynhans C.J., Louw M.D., Thirion C., Rossouw N. J. and Rowntree K. M. (2005): River EcoClassification: Index of Habitat Integrity (Section 1, Technical manual), Joint Water Research Commission and Department of Water Affairs and Forestry report (South Africa), 96 p.

Ladson A.R., White L.J., Doolan J.A., Finlayson B.L., Hart B.T., Lake P.S. and Tilleard J.W. (1999): Development and testing of an Index of Stream Condition for waterway management in Australia. Freshwater Biology 41:453-468.

Lehotský, M. and Grešková A. (2007): Fluvial geomorphological approach to river assessment – methodology and procedure. Geograficky Casopis 59(2):107-129.

Liechti P., Sieber U., Bundi U., Frutiger A., Hütte M., Peter A., von Blücher U., Willi A.P., Göldi C., Kupper U., Meier W. and Niederhauser P. (1998): Méthodes d’analyse et d’appréciation des cours d’eau en Suisse - Système modulaire gradué, Institut fédéral pour l’aménagement, l’épuration et la protection des eaux (IFAEPE); Office fédéral de l’économie des eaux (OFEE); Amt für Abfall, Wasser, Energie und Luft (AWEL), canton de Zurich.

Lorenz A. (2011): Ecohydromorphological assessment of streams and rivers in Germany. UDE. REFORM Kick off Meeting, November 2011, Florence. Unpublished presentation.

Mc Ginnity P.M., Mills P., Roche W. and Müller M. (2005): A desk study to determine a methodology for the monitoring of the 'morphological conditions’ of Irish Rivers. Final Report. Environmental RTDI Programme 2000-2006. Central Fisheries Board - Compass Informatics - EPA. 237 p.

(MDEP) Maine Department of Environmental Protection (2009) : Stream Survey Manual. Volume I and II (and Appendices). Maine Stream Team Program of the Maine Department of Environmental Protection.

Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) (2002): Physical habitat and water chemistry assessment protocol for wadeable stream monitoring sites. Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, St. Paul, MN., 16 p.

Molin, J., A. JKagervall, et al. (2010): Linking habitat characteristics with juvenile density to quantify Salmo salar and Salmo trutta smolt production in the river Savaran, Sweden. Fisheries Management and Ecology 17:446-453.

Muhar S., Schwarz M., Schmutz S. and Jungwirth M. (2000): Identification of rivers with high and good habitat quality: methodological approach and applications in Austria. In: Jungwirth M., Muhar S., Schmutz S. (eds.): Assessing the Ecological Integrity of Running Waters, Hydrobiologia 422/423:343-358.

Munné A., Solà C. and Pagés J. (2006): HIDRI: Protocolo para la valoración de la calidad hidromorfológica de los ríos. Barcelona, Agència Catalana de l’Aigua, 164 p.

Murphy M. and Toland M. (2012): River Hydromorphology Assessment Technique (RHAT). Training guide. Northern Ireland Environment Agency (NIEA), Department of the Environment. Version 2012, 42 pp.

(NERI) National Environmental Research Institute and (SHMI) Slovak Hydrometeorological Institute (2004): Establishment of the Protocol on Monitoring and Assessment of the Hydromorphological Elements (Slovakia) - Final Report.

Oliveira S.V. and Cortes R.M.V. (2005): A biologically relevant habitat condition index for streams in northern Portugal. Aquatic Conservation: Marine and Freshwater Ecosystems, 15(2):189-210.

(ONEMA) Office National de l'Eau et des Milieux Aquatiques (2010): Des étapes et des outils… Les outils de connaissance de l’hydromorphologie des cours d’eau français. Restauration physique des cours d’eau - Connaissance, 31 p.

Overton C.K., Wollrab S.P, Roberts C.B. and Radko M.A. (1997): Fish and Fish Habitat Standard Inventory Procedures handbook. United States Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, 80 p.

(OWEB) Oregon Watershed Enhancement Board (2000): Oregon Watershed Assessment Manual, 583 p.

Pardo, I. Álvarez M., Casas J., Moreno J.L., Vivas S., Bonada N., Alba-Tercedor J., Jáimez-Cuéllar P., Moyà G., Prat N., Robles S., Suárez M.L., Toro M. and Vidal-Abarca M.R. (2002): El hábitat de los ríos mediterráneos. Diseño de un índice de diversidad de hábitat. Limnetica, 21(3-4):115-133.

Parsons M., Thoms M.C and Norris R.H. (2004): Development of a standardised approach to river habitat assessment in Australia. Environmental Monitoring and Assessment 98:109-130.

Petersen, R. C. (1992): The RCE: a Riparian, Channel, and Environmental Inventory for small streams in the agricultural landscape. Freshwater Biology 27(2):295-306 doi:10.1111/j.1365-2427.1992.tb00541.x.

Platts W.S., Megahan W.F. and Minshall G.W. (1983): Methods for evaluating stream, riparian, and biotic conditions. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Intermountain Forest and Range Experiment Station. Ogden, UT, 70pp.

Raven P.J., Fox P., Everard M., Holmes N.T.H. and Dawson F.H. (1997): River habitat survey: A new system for classifying rivers according to their habitat quality. Freshwater Quality: Defining the Indefinable?. 215-234.

Raven P.J., Holmes N.T.H., Charrier P., Dawson F.H., Naura M. and Boon P.J. (2002): Towards a harmonized approach for hydromorphological assessment of rivers in Europe: a qualitative comparison of three survey methods. Aquatic Conservation: Marine and Freshwater Ecosystems 12(4):405-424.

Sandin, L. (2009): The effects of catchment land-use, near-stream vegetation, and river hydromorphology on benthic macroinvertebrate communities in a south-Swedish catchment. Fundamental and Applied Limnology - Archiv für Hydrobiologie 147(1):75-87.

Scheifhacken N., Haase U., Gram-Radu L., Kozovyi R. and Berendonk T.U. (2011): How to assess hydromorphology? A comparison of Ukrainian and German approaches. Environmental Earth Sciences, 1-17.

(SEPA) Swedish Environmental Protection Agency (2007): A handbook on how quality requirements in bodies of surface water can be determined and monitored, 421 p.

Siligardi M., Bernabei S., Cappeletti C., Chierici E., Ciutti F., Egaddi F., Franceschini A., Maiolini B., Mancini L., Minciardi M.R., Monauni C., Rossi G.L., Sansoni G., Spaggiari R. and Zanetti M. (2002): I.F.F. Indice di funzionalità fluviale. Manuale ANPA/2000.

Šípek V., Matoušková M. and Dvořák M. (2010): Comparative analysis of selected hydromorphological assessment methods. Environmental Monitoring Assessment 169(1):309-319.

Somerville D.E. and Pruitt B.A. (2004): Physical Stream Assessment: A Review of Selected Protocols for Use in the Clean Water Act Section 404 Program. vol 3W-0503-NATX. US Environmental Protection Agency, Office of Wetlands, Oceans, and Watersheds, Wetlands Division 213, 90 p.

Stranko S., Boward D., Kilian J., Becker A., Ashton M., Schenk A., Gauza R., Roseberry-Lincoln A. and Kazyak P. (2010): Maryland Biological Stream Survey, Round Three Field Sampling Manual. vol Revised version. Maryland Department of Natural Resources, 66 p.

Taft B. and Koncelik J.P. (2006): Methods for Assessing Habitat in Flowing Waters: Using the Qualitative Habitat Evaluation Index (QHEI). Ohio EPA, 26 p.

Tavzes B. and Urbanic G. (2009): New indices for assessment of hydromorphological alteration of rivers and their evaluation with benthic invertebrate communities; Alpine case study. Review of Hydrobiology 2:133-161.

Tickner D., Armitage P.D., Bickerton M.A. and Hall K.A. (2000): Assessing stream quality using information on mesohabitat distribution and character. Aquatic Conservation-Marine and Freshwater Ecosystems, 10(3):179-196.

(USDA) US Department of Agriculture (2009): Stream Visual Assessment Protocol Version 2. vol Subpart B - Conservation Planning. USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service, 75 p.

(USEPA) US Environmental Protection Agency (1997): Volunteer Stream Monitoring: A Methods Manual. In: Mc Ginnity P.M., Mills P., Roche W. and Müller M. (2005): A desk study to determine a methodology for the monitoring of the 'morphological conditions’ of Irish Rivers. Final Report. Environmental RTDI Programme 2000-2006. Central Fisheries Board - Compass Informatics – EPA, 237 p.

(USEPA) US Environmental Protection Agency (2004): Wadeable Streams Assessment (WASss): Field operations manual. EPA841- B-04-004. Office of Water and Office of Research and Development, Washington, DC, 191 p.

US Forest Service (2006): Stream Inventory Handbook - Level I & II. vol 2.6. US Forest Service, Pacific Northwest Region, 117 p.

(VANR) Vermont Agency of Natural Resources (2010): Vermont Stream Geomorphic Assessment. Appendix A – Field Forms. Waterbury, 17 p.

Weiss A., Matouskova M. and Matschullat J. (2008): Hydromorphological assessment within the EU-Water Framework Directive - trans-boundary cooperation and application to different water basins. Hydrobiologia 603:53-72.

Wilhelm J., Allan J., Wessell K., Merritt R. and Cummins K. (2005): Habitat Assessment of Non-Wadeable Rivers in Michigan. Environmental Management 36:592-609.

Xia T., Zhu W., Xin P. and Li L. (2010): Assessment of urban stream morphology: an integrated index and modelling system. Environmental Monitoring and Assessment 167(1-4):447-460.

Yetman K.T. (2001): Stream corridor assessment survey. Survey protocols. Watershed Restoration Division Chesapeake & Coastal Watershed Services Maryland Maryland Dept. of Natural Resources, 70 p.