Environmental similarity and hierarchical, scale-dependant segregation of biotic signatures for prediction purposes
Mehrdad Sasani, Elias S. Manolakos, Ferdinand L. Hellweger
Date of Award
Doctor of Philosophy
Department or Academic Unit
College of Engineering. Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering.
Environmental Engineering, Urban and Regional Planning, Habitat Quality
Environmental engineering - Computer programs
In the hierarchical river system, any deviation from the pristine state will be translated into disturbances that propagate and eventually reach its endpoints (i.e. the biologic community). Endpoints are indicative of the overall health or integrity of a water body. Integrity is usually measured with multi-metric indices that compare actual observations to reference scenarios. Despite strong agreement among experts about the importance of biological indicators, development of numeric biological standards similar to those used for water quality remains uncertain for several reasons: (1) the natural system is composed of highly intertwined and cross-correlated variables. Identification of simple stress-response relationships is not often possible, (2) the natural system is organized in a nested hierarchy of suitable habitats with very different geographic scales, (3) many environmental variables have a categorical evaluation, which introduces subjectivity and relativity into the system , (4) true reference conditions may no longer exist, and (5) natural randomness. In order to address these issues, an attempt to predict or characterize biologic integrity was performed. In the first section, fish Indices of Biologic Integrity (IBI) were predicted using the K-nearest neighbor concept (KNN). This methodology was used because it allows a fast, step-wise approach easily implemented with highly dimensional environmental vectors. The KNN concept was tested with databases in Maryland, Ohio, and Minnesota. Subsequently, a slightly modified version of the algorithm was tested with a new database in Ohio which combined instream and offtstream features improving the results significantly. The second section consisted of a progressive, hierarchical separation of biological responses using Self-Organizing Maps (SOM) and subsequent clustering of sites using one environmental variable at a time in decreasing order of importance. This methodology attempted to replicate the nested hierarchy of habitats in nature. The biologic responses were characterized using a Gaussian probabilistic curve because it was assumed that IBI was a projection of the log-normal distribution of species onto an arithmetic scale. The best sites in each group were considered as truly reference conditions and compared to the remaining sites within the group. This was applied in Ohio (with only instream or only offstream data) and Maryland (instream and offstream data combined).
David Bedoya Ribó
Ribó, David Bedoya, "Biological response to environmental stress" (2008). Civil Engineering Dissertations. Paper 2. http://hdl.handle.net/2047/d10016983
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