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School of Biological and Behavioural Sciences

Development of bioassessment methods

The River Communities Group has a long history of developing bioassessment methods. The River Invertebrate Prediction And Classification System (RIVPACS), the standard Water Framework Directive-compliant tool used by governmental monitoring agencies throughout the UK (EA, SEPA, NIEA), was developed by the Group.  The Group continues to promote and improve the RIVPACS-approach to bioassessment.  The latest version of RIVPACS (RIVPACS IV) is incorporated in the UK environment agencies’ new web-based River Invertebrate Classification Tool (  The RIVPACS-approach is now being successfully applied to routine monitoring of wadeable streams in the USA, Canada and Australia, streams and lakes in Sweden, and streams in the Czech Republic.  Furthermore, RIVPACS-type tools are being developed in Spain, New Zealand and most recently in regions of China. The Group continue to be at the forefront of the development of bioassessment methods and diagnostic reporting indices.

The River Communities Group has considerable expertise in developing and refining field protocols for sampling biological communities in a range of water body types, e.g. deep non-wadeable rivers, lake shores.  The Water Framework Directive demands that a greater range of freshwater habitats, not just wadeable streams and rivers, receive the protection and management care of governmental environment agencies.  This means that their condition must be regularly monitored using reliable, accurate and practical methods.  Our Group has extensive experience in assessing which methods are most appropriate for different freshwater habitats.  We examine:

  1. How efficient are methods in terms of the time and effort required to collect and process the samples?
  2. How effective are methods at providing an adequate sample of the biological community present under all environmental conditions encountered?
  3. How precise are methods in terms of the uncertainty associated with each sample?
  4. Which method has the most cost-effective precision?

The Group also has considerable experience in developing robust diagnostic indices of stress for use in reporting and interpretation of biomonitoring results e.g. AWIC.  We have pioneered empirical approaches to index development that can be applied to a range of different stressors acting on a variety of different freshwater habitats.  

Collaborators and stakeholders:

Selected publications in this research area:

  • Clarke, R. T., Davy-Bowker, J., Dunbar, M., Laize, C., Scarlett, P.M. and Murphy, J.F. (2011) SNIFFER WFD119: Enhancement of the River Invertebrate Classification Tool (RICT). Project Report. Edinburgh: Scotland & Northern Ireland Forum for Environmental Research.
  • Jones, J.I., Davy-Bowker, J., Murphy, J.F. & Pretty, J. L. (2010) Ecological monitoring and assessment of pollution in rivers.  Pages 126-146. In Ecology of Industrial Pollution: Remediation, Restoration and Preservation. Edited by L.C. Batty, K.B. Hallberg & A. Jarvis.  Cambridge University Press.
  • Hering, D., Astrid Schmidt-Kloiber, A., Murphy, J.F., Lücke, S., Zamora-Munoz, C., López-Rodríguez, M.J. & Huber, T. (2009) Potential impact of climate change on aquatic insects: A sensitivity analysis for European caddisflies (Trichoptera) based on distribution patterns and ecological preferences.  Aquatic Sciences, 71, 1015-1621.  DOI 10.1007/s00027-009-9159-5.
  • Moss, B., Hering, D., Green, A.J., Adoud, A., Becares, E., Beklioglu, B., Bennion, H., Boix, D., Brucet, S., Carvalho, L., Clement, B., Davidson, T., Declerck, S., Dobson, M., van Donk, E., Dudley, B., Feuchtmayr, H., Friberg, N., Grenouillet, G., Hillebrand, H., Hobaek, A., Irvine, K., Jeppesen, E., Johnson, R., Jones, J.I., Kernan, M., Lauridsen, T., Manca, M., Meerhoff, M., Olafsson, J., Ormerod, S., Papastergiadou, E., Penning, W.E., Ptacnik, R., Quintana, X., Sandin, L., Seferlis, M., Simpson, G., Trigal, C. Verdonschot, P., Verschoor, A. & G. Weyhenmeyer (2009) Climate change and the future of freshwater biodiversity in Europe: a primer for policy-makers.  Freshwater Reviews 2, DOI: 10.1608/FRJ-2.2.1.
  • Johnson A.C., Acreman, M.C., Dunbar, M.J., Feist, S.W., Giacomello, A.M., Gozlan, R.E., Hinsley, S.A., Ibbotson, A.T., Jarvie, H.P., Jones, J.I., Longshaw, M., Maberly, S.C., Marsh, T.J., Neal, C., Newman, J.R., Nunn, M.A., Pickup, R.W., Reynard, N.S., Sullivan, C.A., Sumpter, J.P. & R.J. Williams (2009) The British river of the future: How climate change and human activity might affect two contrasting river ecosystems in England.  Science of the Total Environment 407, 4787-4798.
  • Graf, W., Murphy, J.F., Dahl, J., Zamora-Munoz, C. & M.J. Lopez-Rodriguez (2008) Distribution and ecological preferences of European freshwater organisms.  Volume 1. Trichoptera. Pensoft Publishing, Sofia, Bulgaria.
  • Jones, J.I., Davy-Bowker, J., Murphy, J.F., Keller, V., Williams, R. & C.E. Davies (2008) Review of the evidence for organic pollution thresholds to protect rivers with special designations for wildlife. Report No. C03400/2008/1 to Natural England. Contract No. SAE03-02-060.  227 pp. PDF
  • Murphy, J.F., Davies, C.E. & T.A. Corbin (2008) Developing indicators to climate-induced change in UK river ecosystems. In Climate change and aquatic ecosystems in the UK: science, policy and management.  Eds M.Kernan, R.W. Battarbee & H.A. Binney. ENSIS Publishing, London, UK.
  • Carvalho, L., Dudley, B., Dodkins, I., Clarke, R.T., Jones, J.I., Thackeray, S. & S. Maberly (2007) Phytoplankton Classification Tool (Phase 2).  SNIFFER WFD80.  104 pp. PDF
  • Davy-Bowker, J., Clarke, R.T., Furse, M.T., Davies, C.E., Corbin, T.A., Murphy, J.F. & N.T. Kneebone (2007) RIVPACS database documentation. Scotland & Northern Ireland Forum for Environmental Research report.  PDF
  • O'Hare, M.T., Tree, A., Neale, M.W., Irvine, K., Gunn, I.D., Jones J.I. & R.T. Clarke (2007) Lake benthic macroinvertebrates I: Improving sampling methodology.  Environment Agency Bristol, Science Report: SC030294/SR1.
  • Clarke, R.T. & J.F. Murphy (2006) Effects of locally rare taxa on the precision and sensitivity of RIVPACS bioassessment of freshwaters. Freshwater Biology. 51, 1924-1940
  • Davy-Bowker, J., Clarke, R.T., Johnson, R.K., Kokes, J., Murphy, J.F & S. Zahrádková (2006) A comparison of the European Water Framework Directive physical typology and RIVPACS-type models as alternative methods of establishing reference conditions for benthic macroinvertebrates.  Hydrobiologia 566, 91-108.
  • Murphy, J. F. & J. Davy-Bowker (2006) The predictive modelling approach to biomonitoring: taking river quality assessment forward. In: Biological Monitoring of Rivers: Applications and Perspectives.  Eds. Ziglio M., Siligardi M. & Flaim G. Wiley & Sons. 472pp.
  • Neale, M.W., Kneebone, N.T., Bass, J.A.B., Blackburn, J.H., Clarke, R.T., Corbin, T.A., Davy-Bowker, J., Gunn, R.J.M., Furse, M.T. & J.I. Jones (2006) Assessment of the Effectiveness and Suitability of Available Techniques for Sampling Invertebrates in Deep Rivers Final Report T1(A5.8) - 1.1.  North-South SHARE report.  97pp. PDF
  • Ormerod, S. J., Lewis, B.R., Kowalik, R.A., Murphy, J. & J.Davy-Bowker (2006) Field testing the AWIC index for detecting acidification in British streams. Archiv für Hydrobiologie 166, 99-115.
  • Davy-Bowker, J., Murphy, J.F., Rutt, G.P., Steel, J.E.C. & M.T. Furse (2005) The development and testing of a macroinvertebrate biotic index for detecting the impact of acidity on streams. Archiv für Hydrobiologie 163: 383-403.
  • Jones, J.I., Bass, J.A.B. & J. Davy-Bowker (2005) A review of methods for sampling invertebrates in deep rivers. EU INTERREG IIIA Ireland/Northern Ireland, North South Share River Basin Management Project Report.


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