The characterization of instream and riparian habitat is part of the multiple lines of evidence used by the U.S. Geological Survey's National Water-Quality Assessment (NAWQA) Program to assess the water quality of streams. In the NAWQA Program, integrated physical, chemical, and biological assessments are used to describe water-quality conditions. The instream and riparian habitat data are collected at sites selected for surface-water chemistry analyses and biological assessment.
Instream and riparian habitat data are structured in a nested scheme?at sampling reach, segment, and basin scales. The habitat data were collected in the Ozark Plateaus study unit at 41 sites during 1993-95. Thirteen of these sites, representative of selected combinations of physiography, land use, and basin size, have longitudinal, transverse, and quarter point vegetation plot surveys in addition to the Level I survey measurements (reach length, depth, velocity, dominant substrate, embeddedness, and vegetation quarter points, for example) recommended by the NAWQA Program protocols. These habitat data were from onsite measurements, U.S. Geological Survey topographic maps, and a geographic information system.
The analyses of the habitat data indicates substantial differences between sites of differing physiography and basin-scale land-use activities. The basins range from 46.4 to 4,318 square kilometers and have stream orders from 2 to 6. All streams studied are a riffle/pool type, and most have cobble that is less than 50 percent embedded as the dominant streambed substrate.
Of the three physiographic sections studied, the Boston Mountains have the largest mean segment and sideslope gradients, basin relief, woody species diversity, and stream depths when compared with sites of similar size. Channel sinuosities, mean velocities, and canopy angles are largest at sites in the Springfield Plateau physiographic section. The sites in the Salem Plateau physiographic section have the largest woody vegetation densities and mean channel widths.
Sites in basins with predominantly agricultural land use tend to have more open canopies, steeper segment gradients, and more sinuous stream channels than the forested sites. Sites in predominantly forested basins tend to have deeper and swifter flow, smaller channel widths, and more dense woody riparian vegetation (at small basins) than the agricultural sites.