The application of artificial neural networks to the interpretation and classification of freshwater benthic invertebrate communities

  • Brendan M. Ruck

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


This thesis presents a thorough and principled investigation into the application of artificial neural networks to the biological monitoring of freshwater. It contains original ideas on the classification and interpretation of benthic macroinvertebrates, and aims to demonstrate their superiority over the biotic systems currently used in the UK to report river water quality.
The conceptual basis of a new biological classification system is described, and a full review and analysis of a number of river data sets is presented. The biological classification is compared to the common biotic systems using data from the Upper Trent catchment. This data contained 292 expertly classified invertebrate samples identified to mixed taxonomic levels.
The neural network experimental work concentrates on the classification of the invertebrate samples into biological class, where only a subset of the sample is used to form the classification. Other experimentation is conducted into the identification of novel input samples, the classification of samples from different biotopes and the use of prior information in the neural network models. The biological classification is shown to provide an intuitive interpretation of a graphical representation, generated without reference to the class labels, of the Upper Trent data.
The selection of key indicator taxa is considered using three different approaches; one novel, one from information theory and one from classical statistical methods. Good indicators of quality class based on these analyses are found to be in good agreement with those chosen by a domain expert. The change in information associated with different levels of identification and enumeration of taxa is quantified.
The feasibility of using neural network classifiers and predictors to develop numeric criteria for the biological assessment of sediment contamination in the Great Lakes is also investigated.
Date of AwardDec 1995
Original languageEnglish
SupervisorBill Walley (Supervisor)


  • freshwater biological monitoring
  • indicator taxa
  • multilayer perceptrons
  • river water quality
  • sediment toxicity

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