Relationships between reference site quality and baetid mayfly assemblages in mountainous streams of the Luvuvhu catchment, South Africa




bioindicator, ecological integrity, mayflies, reference condition, water temperature


With water quality deteriorating rapidly at a global scale, river sections suited to serve as reference sites are being increasingly lost. It thus becomes critical to develop rapid methods to confirm that previously monitored sites continue meet the requirements of reliable reference sites. In the absence of pristine sites, 9 near-natural sites, as defined by the Kleynhans (1996) classification, were used as reference sites for the Luvuvhu River catchment to compare the quality of physico-chemical factors against a biological metric. Baetid mayfly community structure at a site was chosen as an index of water quality, since this family is common in all types of freshwaters, highly diverse and adapted to unpolluted running water. Baetid larvae were sampled monthly from stones-in-current biotopes across 9 sites for over 1 year, between December 2016 and January 2018. A Spearman’s correlation test was used to evaluate the relationship between physico-chemical factors and identify redundant variables. Water quality standards were measured against the national water quality guidelines for aquatic ecosystems. We used a generalized linear model to determine the effect of physico-chemical variables on baetid species, and canonical correspondence analysis to show the relationships between baetid species, sites, and physico-chemical variables. A total of 3 039 individuals belonging to 12 mayfly species were recorded. Our findings indicated that while the physico-chemical factors were highly variable, they were within favourable ranges to reflect reference site conditions. While water temperature was the most important driver of baetid community structure in general, as it negatively affected their abundances, a subset of species (Pseudoponnota sp., Pseudocloeon sp., Acanthiops varius and Demoulinia crassi) showed clear responses to changes in TDS and stream width. We conclude that specific baetid species show good potential as biological indicators of reference sites and chronic water temperature stress, making assessment of reference sites easier.


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How to Cite

Pfananani Ramulifho, Nick Rivers-Moore, & Stefan Foord. (2023). Relationships between reference site quality and baetid mayfly assemblages in mountainous streams of the Luvuvhu catchment, South Africa. Water SA, 49(3 July).



Research paper