The validity of the Gammarus : Asellus ratio as an index of organic pollution: abiotic and biotic influences

Calum MacNeil, Jaimie T. A. Dick, Ewan Bigsby, Robert W. Elwood, W. Ian Montgommery, Chris N. Gibbins, David W. Kelly

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47 Citations (Scopus)


In freshwaters, Gammarus spp. are more sensitive to organic pollution than Asellus spp. and the relative abundance of the two taxa has been proposed as a pollution index. We tested the validity of this by examining the relationship between the Gammarus : Asellus (G : A) ratio and (1) a suite of physico-chemical variables, (2) established biotic (average score per taxon, ASPT) and richness (species richness (S) and Ephemeroptera, Plecoptera and Trichoptera families richness (EPT family richness)) indices generated from the macroinvertebrate community. In addition, we investigated a suspected biotic interaction, predation, between Gammarus and Asellus. Both univariate and multivariate analyses showed that the G : A ratio was sometimes responsive to changes in parameters linked to organic pollution, such as BOD5 and nitrate levels. However, the G : A ratio also appeared responsive to variables not directly linked to organic pollution, such as conductivity and distance from source. There were significant positive correlations among the G : A ratio and the ASPT, S and EPT, indicating that changes in the relative abundances of Gammarus and Asellus were reflected in changes in the pollution sensitivity and richness of the wider macroinvertebrate community. A laboratory experiment revealed significant predation of Asellus aquaticus juveniles by Gammarus duebeni celticus adults, but no reciprocal predation. We propose that the G : A ratio may be useful as a crude measure of organic pollution that could supplement more complex indices in a multimetric approach to pollution monitoring or be used for monitoring individual sites, where a simple technique is required for monitoring purposes over a period of time. Also, we urge recognition of the possible role of biotic interactions among taxa used in the generation of pollution indices.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)75-84
Number of pages10
JournalWater research
Issue number1
Early online date6 Nov 2001
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2002

Bibliographical note

This study was undertaken during a Department of Education for Northern Ireland (DENI) Research Studentship awarded to C. MacNeil. Thanks to Zöe Ruiz, Jason Pickford, Mike Jeffries, David Turnbull, Robert Lee, John Berges, John Prenter, Gillian Bell, Mark Briffa and Nikos Dabitaz. We also thank Eamon Hagen and the Environment and Heritage Service for supplying chemical monitoring data. Thanks to J.F. Wright and an anonymous referee, whose comments greatly improved this manuscript.


  • Gammarus : Asellus ratio
  • organic pollution
  • biotic indices
  • richness indices
  • predation
  • running-water sites
  • macroinvertebrate communities
  • performance
  • diversity
  • crustacea
  • quality
  • rivers


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