Towards a macroinvertebrate sampling protocol for monitoring water quality of wetlands in South Africa.
The degradation of wetlands and loss of their associated ecosystem services is widely recognised in South Africa, however, at present there is no standard method of biologically assessing wetland health in this country. Internationally, particularly in the U.S.A and Australia, wetland bioassessment techniques using macroinvertebrates are well established. A number of these wetland bioassessment protocols have been derived from local river biomonitoring techniques, as there is a belief that river and wetland ecology and macroinvertebrate assemblages at family level are similar. However, some authors consider wetland macroinvertebrate assemblages and ecological processes to differ greatly from those found in rivers, and believe that such techniques are not transferable. South Africa has a well established macroinvertebrate biomonitoring protocol for rivers called SASS5 (South African Scoring System Version 5). This study is a preliminary investigation into the extent to which the SASS5 scoring system is applicable to the assessment of nutrient enriched wetland water quality. Macroinvertebrates are particularly suitable as biomonitoring tools: they respond to a variety of stressors, have life cycles that allow for integrated responses to episodic pollution, and are relatively easy to identify to family level. When selecting wetlands for the development of a biomonitoring protocol, wetlands should all be of the same; classification (Le. palustrine), geomorphological and climate setting, hydrological regime and dominant vegetation class. Sampling was restricted to sedge-dominated palustrine wetlands in the midlands of KwaZulu-Natal, with similar hydro-geomorphological settings. Due to wetlands and rivers having different biotopes (e.g. no riffles present in wetlands), the SASS5 sampling protocol could not be used, thus a pilot investigation was undertaken to derive a suitable sampling technique for \ collecting a representative and diagnostic sample of aquatic macroinvertebrates from a wetland. This technique was developed based on published methods. Both sweep net and activity trap sampling were conducted, and each evaluated for their effectiveness at macroinvertebrate collection. Sweep net sampling was tested over a range of sweep intensities (2-6 sweeps), and activity traps were placed at four different depths: at the water surface, just below the surface, 0.10.15m below surface and on the substrate. A total of 32 taxa identified to family level were identified in the samples. Taxon diversity and composition did not differ in the activity traps placed at the four depth locations. Taxon diversity did not differ significantly between different sweep intensities; however there was a significant difference in taxon composition between the different sweep intensities and between activity trap and sweep net samples (p<0.05). Sixty-eight percent of taxa appeared more frequently in sweep net sampling compared to activity trap sampling. Six taxa were found exclusively in sweep net samples, and two taxa were recorded exclusively in activity traps. There was no trend in either method collecting more or missing any unique trophic group. In conclusion, activity traps are not required to supplement sweep net data, and a technique using a sweep net with a sweep intensity of five would be suitable to collect a representative sample of wetland macroinvertebrates. Using the derived technique, four reference and three wetlands impacted by dairy effluent were sampled. Six macroinvertebrate samples were collected from each of the seven wetland, together with data for selected physico-chemical variables, macrohabitat condition, biotope suitability and organism detectability. For each sample, the macroinvertebrates were identified and assigned a predetermined SASS5 tolerance score between 1 and 15, with higher scores indicating increased sensitivity to poor water quality. 11 A total of 39 taxa, identified to family level, were collected during sampling. SASS5 scores ranged from 15-82. Five of the wetlands had mean SASS5 scores of between 46 and 59. Five of the wetlands had an intra-wetland SASS5 score range greater than 30. ASPT values ranged from 3.3 to 5.5, and few high scoring (~8) taxa were collected. There was no significant difference in SASS5 scores between samples collected above, at and downstream of an effluent discharge point within the same impacted wetland. SASS5 scores for reference wetlands were also not significantly higher than those recorded for impacted wetlands. Comparison of ranked SASS5 scores and environmental data did suggest a relationship between the variables, but was not significant. Based on the SASS5 score water quality guidelines, all sampled wetlands were considered to have impacted water quality; however, this was not supported by the macrohabitat and physico-chemical results. Possible reasons for the low SASS5 scores include: the lack of 'stones in/out current' biotopes in wetlands, lower levels of dissolved oxygen present compared to rivers, and the limited detectability of organisms due to large amounts of substrate in the samples. A wetland adaptation of SASS5 would require the reassignment of modified scores to certain taxa based on their distribution in wetlands of varying water quality. The SASS5 score level of 100 and the ASPT value of 6 (as specified in the SASS5 score water quality guidelines) were found to be inappropriate for wetlands. It is suggested that, either the range of taxa tolerance scores be increased (1 to >15), or the score level of 100 be lowered. The ASPT value should also be reduced. Although SASS5 appears unsuitable for assessing wetlands, variations in taxon composition between sampled wetlands, identified through CA analysis, suggests that macroinvertebrates are responsive to changes in wetland condition, and thus have potential as indicators of wetland water quality. Nine taxa responsive to the presence of nitrogen have been identified as being potentially good indicators. iii Further research should focus on the testing of SASS5 throughout the year, in a range of wetland types, and in wetlands moderately to severely impacted by pollutants other than dairy effluent. It is recommended that a habitat or biotope index be developed and used in conjunction with any future wetland macroinvertebrate bioassessment protocols.