Macroinvertebrate indices versus microbial fecal pollution characteristics for water quality monitoring reveals contrasting results for an Ethiopian river

Geda Kebede*, Douglas Mushi, Rita B. Linke, Olyad Dereje, Aschalew Lakew, Daniel S. Hayes, Andreas H. Farnleitner, Wolfram Graf

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Journal article (peer-reviewed)Journal article

27 Citations (Scopus)


Awash River is one of the major surface water sources used by millions of people in the central Highlands of Ethiopia. However, numerous pollution sources exert significant pressure on the river. Different approaches for assessing the status of water quality exist, but few studies compared the performance of distinct methods. Therefore, this study aims to evaluate the consistency of fecal indicator bacteria for environmental health assessment of rivers by comparing them to assessments of physicochemical tests as well as newly developed macroinvertebrate indices. Physicochemical, biological (macroinvertebrates) and microbiological (Escherichia coli and Enterococci) parameters were assessed at five sites along the upper Awash River. For E. coli and Enterococci moderate to strong fecal pollution levels, ranging from 7.9 × 102 to 7.6 × 103 cfu/100 ml and 7.6 × 102 to 1.1 × 104 cfu/100 ml, were observed, respectively. The concentrations of both fecal indicator bacteria exceeded the standards set by the European Union and the World Health Organization for safe recreational water. Hence, all sites were categorized as poor for swimming and recreation. In contrast, three African benthic macroinvertebrate indices (South African Scoring System 5, Tanzanian River Scoring System, Ethiopian Biotic Score) indicated a natural or good water quality with slight ecological degradation at the upstream sites, and a moderate to poor ecological status at the downstream sites. While macroinvertebrate communities were able to reflect anthropogenic disturbances, mainly caused by different land uses, fecal indicator bacteria, most likely driven by the high pressure of extensive livestock fecal emission and overgrazing in the whole catchment, did not. This study underpins the necessity of combining different indicator systems to analyze human pressures in Africa in a holistic way, which can serve as a basis for management and sustainable use of fundamental resources such as water from freshwater ecosystems.

Original languageEnglish
Article number105733
JournalEcological Indicators
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2020


  • Anthropogenic influence
  • Biotic indices
  • Ecological assessment
  • FIB
  • Health-related recreational water quality
  • Standard fecal indicator bacteria

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Decision Sciences
  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Ecology


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