Date of Graduation


Document Type


Degree Type



Davis College of Agriculture, Natural Resources and Design


Wildlife and Fisheries Resources

Committee Chair

J. Todd Petty.


I used the Cheat River watershed, West Virginia, as a model system to examine the regional impacts of extensive localized stream impairment. Acid mine drainage (AMD) in the Cheat River watershed provided a unique opportunity to test the hypothesis that regional biological condition can be impacted through multiple local sources of degradation. Acid mine drainage is the result of the interaction among pyrite-rich coal, oxygen, and water. This interaction produces a solution that is generally low in pH and buffering capacity and high in heavy metals and sulfate and is toxic to aquatic life. Acid mine drainage also has the potential to isolate upstream reaches by acting as a barrier to dispersal and by reducing the source of colonizing individuals through the interaction between species life history and the toxic effects of AMD. Although the impacts of AMD are unique, other local stressors such as channelization, urbanization, and impoundments have the potential to produce similar regional impacts.;In order to test the local and regional impacts of mining-related discharge in the lower Cheat River basin, I examined fish and macroinvertebrate assemblage response to the direct and indirect effects of AMD. Fish assemblages were sampled in 66 unique stream segments within Cheat River tributaries of first through third Strahler order. Macroinvertebrate data were obtained from the West Virginia Division of Environmental Protection (WVDEP). Fish index of biotic integrity (IBI) and macroinvertebrate stream condition index (SCI) were used to quantify fish and macroinvertebrate assemblage response to impairment. Species richness and presence/absence models were developed in the non-AMD impacted upper basin and were applied to the lower basin. Additionally, I developed a core/periphery model to describe range of stream basin areas individual stream fish species. Fishes were classified by the size of streams their core contained (i.e. small, intermediate, large, or no core) and the extent of their core (i.e., narrow or wide). Results from these quantitative methods allowed me to test the regional effects of AMD in the lower Cheat River basin.;As a result of the alteration of species richness patterns and notable deviations from core/periphery and presence/absence model expectations, I concluded that the lower Cheat River watershed is impaired. Several important indicators of regional impairment are discussed. Several fish species that possess different core types and extents are discussed as potential indicators of regional impairment. Finally, I discuss the potential implications of regionally impaired watersheds as they pertain to biomonitoring, watershed restoration, and the management of fish species and communities. Although no single indicator of regional impairment exists, I propose that these complementary techniques provide a powerful framework to assess regional impairment.