Assessing stream health and fish habitat in streams of the Chesapeake Bay Watershed

Science Center Objects

Streams and rivers provide habitat for a diverse array of aquatic and semi-aquatic species. However, human alteration to landscapes and riverscapes has affected this habitat resulting in its degradation and thus loss of habitat and associated sensitive aquatic species.  While this relationship has been known for many years, only recently has the availability of data and analytical capabilities afforded the opportunity to examine how human modifications to landscapes and riverscapes have affected streams across large geographic areas.  The goal of this research is to develop improved methods to examine how human activities have affected stream and river habitat and associated organisms, such as brook trout, smallmouth bass and shad throughout the Chesapeake Bay watershed. 

This study is designed to assess the biological health and condition of associated habitat for a freshwater streams and rivers in the Chesapeake Bay watershed.  Researchers are using existing survey data on biological communities and data on landscape conditions to develop models that are then used to predict biological health and habitat condition for streams and rivers without any survey data.  These models will be used to help establish baseline conditions as well as track trends in time of both biological health and habitat condition.   This study has four main objectives:  

  1. Develop contemporary predictive models of stream health in partnership with the Interstate Commission on the Potomac River Basin (ICPRB) using the ICPRB’s Chesapeake basin-wide index of biotic integrity, Chessie BIBI, which is based on benthic macroinvertebrates, for small streams across the entire Chesapeake Bay Watershed.
  2. Acquire fish survey data from programs across the watershed and compile into a single database and develop an assessment of fish habitat for all freshwater streams and rivers from headwaters to the tidal fresh system.
  3. Test improvement in model accuracy and predictive ability when using fine-scaled data (e.g., 1:24,000 scale NHDPlus High Resolution) data versus more coarse-scaled data (e.g., 1:100,000 scale NHDPlus Version 2) for assessing landscape impacts on fish communities through pilot studies.
  4. Construct models to forecast stream health and fish habitat throughout the Chesapeake Bay watershed to future landscape and climate scenarios.
Chesapeake Bay image

Chesapeake Bay image

(Credit: Kelly O. Maloney, USGS Leetown Science Center. Public domain.)