The impact of cattle access on ecological water quality in streams: Examples from agricultural catchments within Ireland

E. Conroy, J. N. Turner, A. Rymszewicz, J. J. O'Sullivan, M. Bruen, Damian M. Lawler, H. Lally, M. Kelly-Quinn

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    30 Citations (Scopus)
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    Unrestricted cattle access to rivers and streams represent a potentially significant localised pressure on freshwater systems. However there is no consensus in the literature on the occurrence and extent of impact and limited research has examined the effects on aquatic biota in the humid temperate environment examined in the present study. Furthermore, this is one of the first times that research consider the potential for cattle access impacts in streams of varying water quality in Northern Europe. We investigated the effects of cattle access on macroinvertebrate communities and deposited fine sediment levels, in four rivers of high/good and four rivers of moderate water quality status which drain, low gradient, calcareous grassland catchments in Ireland. We assessed the temporal variability in macroinvertebrates communities across two seasons, spring and autumn. Site specific impacts were evident which appeared to be influenced by water quality status and season. All four high/good water status rivers revealed significant downstream changes in community structure and at least two univariate metrics (total richness and EPT richness together with taxon, E and EPT abundance). Two of the four moderate water status rivers showed significant changes in community structure, abundance and richness metrics and functional feeding groups driven in the main by downstream increases in collectors/gatherers, shredders and burrowing taxa. These two moderate water status rivers had high or prolonged livestock activity. In view of these findings, the potential for some of these sites to achieve at least high/good water quality status, as set out in the EU Water Framework Directive, may be compromised. The results presented highlight the need for additional research to further define the site specific factors and livestock management practices, under different discharge conditions, that increase the risk of impact on aquatic ecology due to these cattle-river interactions.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)17-29
    Number of pages13
    JournalScience of the Total Environment
    Early online date9 Jan 2016
    Publication statusPublished - 15 Mar 2016

    Bibliographical note

    NOTICE: this is the author’s version of a work that was accepted for publication in Science of the Total Environment. Changes resulting from the publishing process, such as peer review, editing, corrections, structural formatting, and other quality control mechanisms may not be reflected in this document. Changes may have been made to this work since it was submitted for publication. A definitive version was subsequently published in Science of the Total Environment, [547, (2016)] DOI: doi:10.1016/j.scitotenv.2015.12.120


    • Deposited sediment
    • Biological impact
    • Macroinvertebrates
    • Rivers


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