Characterization of ecological exergy based on benthic macroinvertebrates in lotic ecosystems

Mi Jung Bae, Fengqing Li, Piet F.M. Verdonschot, Young Seuk Park*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

6 Citations (Scopus)


The evaluation of ecosystem health is a fundamental process for conducting effective ecosystem management. Ecological exergy is used primarily to summarize the complex dynamics of lotic ecosystems. In this study, we characterized the functional aspects of lotic ecosystems based on the exergy and specific exergy from headwaters to downstream regions in the river's dimensions (i.e., river width and depth) and in parallel with the nutrient gradient. Data were extracted from the Ecologische Karakterisering van Oppervlaktewateren in Overijssel (EKOO) database, consisting of 249 lotic study sites (including springs, upper, middle and lower courses) and 690 species. Exergy values were calculated based on trophic groups (carnivores, detritivores, detriti-herbivores, herbivores and omnivores) of benthic macroinvertebrate communities. A Self-Organizing Map (SOM) was applied to characterize the different benthic macroinvertebrate communities in the lotic ecosystem, and the Random Forest model was used to predict the exergy and specific exergy based on environmental variables. The SOM classified the sampling sites into four clusters representing differences in the longitudinal distribution along the river, as well as along nutrient gradients. Exergy tended to increase with stream size, and specific exergy was lowest at sites with a high nutrient load. The Random Forest model results indicated that river width was the most important predictor of exergy followed by dissolved oxygen,ammonium and river depth. Orthophosphate was the most significant predictor for estimating specific exergy followed by nitrate and total phosphate. Exergy and specific exergy exhibited different responses to various environmental conditions. This result suggests that the combination of exergy and specific exergy, as complementary indicators, can be used reliably to evaluate the health condition of a lotic ecosystem.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2319-2339
Number of pages21
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2013


  • Ecosystem health assessment
  • Exergy
  • Nutrients
  • Random Forest
  • Self-organizing map
  • Stream Size


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