Response of American dippers (Cinclus mexicanus) to variation in stream water quality

Jules Feck, Robert O. Hall

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

31 Scopus citations


1. Semi-aquatic birds may be sensitive to altered water quality. While avian species are not used in the bioassessment of streams, they may complement the more common use of benthic macroinvertebrates and fish. We estimated the extent to which water quality can predict attributes of the populations of one common semi-aquatic bird, the American dipper (Cindus mexicanus). 2. First, we estimated dipper presence/absence in relation to water quality as measured by a multimetric assessment index and individual bioassessment metrics. Second, we estimated dipper territory area and reproductive success in response to variation in water quality. We studied the diet, territory area and fecundity of dippers and sampled benthic macroinvertebrates, water chemistry and physical variables at 32 sites with and 17 sites without nesting dippers. 3. Dipper presence was only weakly related to chemical, physical and commonly recorded bioassessment metrics such as per cent Ephemeroptera, Plecoptera and Trichoptera (%EPT). Dippers were strongly related to the abundance of their common prey, Drunella and Heptageniidae, which are only a small component of the commonly recorded bioassessment metrics. The variances in territory area and reproductive success were weakly predicted by water quality variables. 4. Dipper presence reflected disturbance as measured by their common prey, showing that lower abundance of these stream invertebrates affected this semi-aquatic bird. We suggest dipper presence/absence might be used in multimetric indices of biotic integrity for the bioassessment of streams.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1123-1137
Number of pages15
JournalFreshwater Biology
Issue number9
StatePublished - Sep 2004


  • American dippers
  • Benthic macroinvertebrates
  • Bioassessment
  • Sedimentation
  • Terrestrial/aquatic linkages


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