The importance of maintaining healthy riparian communities to sustain natural stream processes and function is well documented. Land management agencies in the West are currently developing methods to assess and monitor riparian community condition to adapt land use practices that would better protect rangeland ecosystems. To determine whether these methods also provide an indication of abiotic and biotic stream condition, we compared the classification system of riparian communities developed by the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) to physical parameters of stream condition and to aquatic invertebrate community assemblages. Thirty-three sites in 19 different streams of the Toiyabe Range in central Nevada were measured for water quality, substrate characteristics, and fish abundance and diversity. We sampled aquatic invertebrates and calculated community indices based on environmental tolerance levels, taxonomic diversity, and abundance of sensitive taxa. USFS personnel classified these sites by dominant riparian plant community type (meadow, willow, or aspen) and ecological status (low, moderate, or high) using plant abundance data, rooting depth, and soil infiltration to determine similarities to potential natural communities.

Riparian condition indices as well as community diversity were significantly correlated to proportions of fine and small-diameter substrate in streambeds. Accumulation of silt was significantly related to plant community type, with meadow sites expressing highest proportions. Further examinations indicated that 2 of 6 invertebrate community indices were significantly related to ecological status, with highest diversity levels occurring mainly in willow- and aspen-dominated sites in moderate ecological condition. Nevertheless, we show that several other environmental variables, including substrate characteristics, dissolved oxygen, water temperature, and species richness of fish communities, were more strongly and consistently related to invertebrate assemblage patterns. Our results demonstrate that information on aquatic invertebrates and stream condition could augment the existing riparian classification system and provide useful monitoring tools to more thoroughly examine ecosystem health in rangelands.