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Summary of Information on Aquatic Biota and Their Habitats in the Willamette Basin, Oregon, through 1995

By Bob Altman, Colleen M. Henson, and Ian R. Waite

USGS Water-Resources Investigations Report 97-4023, 174 pages, 5 figures, 12 tables, 478 references

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Abstract

Available information on aquatic biota of the Willamette Basin was reviewed and summarized to describe current and historical conditions as part of the U.S. Geological Survey's National Water-Quality Assessment Program. Biological parameters emphasized include the status, distribution, and trends of aquatic biota, particularly algae, macroinvertebrates, and fish; the condition of aquatic and riparian habitat in which these biota reside; and the response of these biota to natural and human-associated impacts, including the level, type, and effect of contaminants.

Considerable data are available on aquatic biota in the Willamette Basin, although the information is highly uneven relative to taxa and spatial scope. Extensive information exists for high-profile taxa, such as salmonid fishes, but less information is available for macroinvertebrates, and relatively little data exist for algae. Additionally, some areas such as the H.J. Andrews Experimental Forest and the main stem Willamette River have been extensively studied, whereas data are limited for many other areas.

The basin supports a diverse aquatic macroinvertebrate fauna. Available data indicate a relatively high diversity of taxa and a high richness of Ephemeroptera, Plecoptera, Trichoptera (EPT) taxa in the upper reaches of the basin. In the lower main stem reaches, macroinvertebrate assemblages are dominated by pollution tolerant organisms and those adapted to low dissolved oxygen levels. Most of the limited data on algae are from sampling in the main stem Willamette River. Diatoms and blue-green algae are the dominant algal forms. Approximately 61 fish species occur in the basin, although nearly half are introduced. Species richness and distribution are highly correlated with elevation, stream gradient, and water temperature. High elevation, cold water, mountain streams are characterized by a few species of salmonids, sculpins, suckers, and whitefish. Low elevation, main stem reaches of major rivers and streams are dominated by warm water species, such as bass, catfish, and several species in the pan fish group. The only species of fish listed as threatened or endangered is the Oregon chub (Oregonichthys crameri).

The effect of an expanding human presence in the Willamette Basin has substantially altered aquatic and riparian habitats, and the biota that use or reside in these habitats. Construction of dams, channelization and bank stabilization of rivers, species introductions, supplementations of fisheries through aquaculture, timber harvesting, agricultural activities, and urbanization have contributed to changes in aquatic habitats and biota from historical conditions.

Aquatic toxicological investigations in the basin have focused primarily on fish. These studies have addressed chlorinated pesticides, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), dioxins and furans, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), and trace elements in aquatic tissue, as well as fish health assessments, skeletal abnormalities, and aquatic toxicological responses. Several pesticides exceeded U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and State water-quality criteria for the protection of aquatic life. Elevated PCB, dioxin, and furan concentrations were associated with point sources, such as pulp and paper mills. Elevated concentrations of mercury in aquatic tissue were associated with several reservoirs. Fish health assessments and skeletal abnormality studies detected high levels of abnormalities in fish from the main stem Willamette River. Few investigations have examined aquatic toxicological responses, such as enzyme induction assays, growth assays, and biomarker studies.


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