Validating anthropogenic threat maps as a tool for assessing river ecological integrity in Andean-Amazon basins

Janeth Lessmann, Maria J. Troya, Alexander S. Flecker, W. Chris Funk, Juan M. Guayasamin, Valeria Ochoa-Herrera, N. LeRoy Poff, Esteban Suarez, Andrea C. Encalada

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

15 Citations (Scopus)
32 Downloads (Pure)


Anthropogenic threat maps are commonly used as a surrogate for the ecological integrity of rivers in freshwater conservation, but a clearer understanding of their relationships is required to develop proper management plans at large scales. Here, we developed and validated empirical models that link the ecological integrity of rivers to threat maps in a large, heterogeneous and biodiverse Andean-Amazon watershed. Through fieldwork, we recorded data on aquatic invertebrate community composition, habitat quality, and physical-chemical parameters to calculate the ecological integrity of 140 streams/rivers across the basin. Simultaneously, we generated maps that describe the location, extent, and magnitude of impact of nine anthropogenic threats to freshwater systems in the basin. Through seven-fold cross-validation procedure, we found that regression models based on anthropogenic threats alone have limited power for predicting the ecological integrity of rivers. However, the prediction accuracy improved when environmental predictors (slope and elevation) were included, and more so when the predictions were carried out at a coarser scale, such as microbasins. Moreover, anthropogenic threats that amplify the incidence of other pressures (roads, human settlements and oil activities) are the most relevant predictors of ecological integrity. We concluded that threat maps can offer an overall picture of the ecological integrity pattern of the basin, becoming a useful tool for broad-scale conservation planning for freshwater ecosystems. While it is always advisable to have finer scale in situ measurements of ecological integrity, our study shows that threat maps provide fast and cost-effective results, which so often are needed for pressing management and conservation actions.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere8060
Pages (from-to)1-23
Number of pages23
Issue number11
Publication statusPublished - 20 Nov 2019


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