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Program Overview

Our goal is a statewide aquatic classification that will allow biologists to identify the stream type and compare their observed aquatic sample to the expected community of organisms in similar streams of reference condition (e.g. unaltered aquatic habitats, MT DEQ Tier I or II). This classification can focus conservation efforts on rare community types, streams that are likely to contain species of concern, or streams with the full compliment of native species.

The aquatic ecological classification system we developed for the Missouri River Watershed is based on a national hierarchical framework created by The Nature Conservancy. Our Montana classification is the first Western aquatic classification to integrate biological communities with abiotic stream parameters like geology and hydrology. (See our full report.) This coupling allows us to predict biological communities in aquatic types and watersheds. Our goal was to answer 3 primary questions:

1. What types of aquatic communities exist in Montana?

2. Where in the landscape/watershed are they found?

3. How can we assess aquatic health -- which occurrences represent the best, most viable examples of each community type?

The classification hierarchy enables managers to utilize the classification at various spatial scales depending on the level of depth or breadth of information needed to answer their questions (i.e., at the landscape level or the local reach scale). Rosgen (1996) and Cowardin et al. (1979) stream classification protocols are well established but are based on abiotic variables and not hierarchical.

Aquatic Information

Other Information

Montana's lakes, rivers and streams are vital natural resources and form the headwaters of the continent. They provide habitat and are the base of the food chain for hundreds of aquatic, as well as terrestrial organisms. From the smallest mountain stream to the Missouri and Yellowstone Rivers, our goal is to provide the best biological information available about aquatic diversity and measures of aquatic health.

With funding support from the Bureau of Land Management and The Nature Conservancy, we developed an aquatic species database of the Upper Missouri River Region and classified biological communities (fish and macroinvertebrates). Since this classification system is linked to the biological communities inhabiting particular stream types, we can now predict species occurrences in high quality or degraded aquatic settings and use that to measure aquatic health.