The application of methods of uncertain reasoning to the biological classification of river water quality

  • Michael Boyd

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


This thesis presents an investigation into the application of methods of uncertain reasoning to the biological classification of river water quality.
Existing biological methods for reporting river water quality are critically evaluated, and the adoption of a discrete biological classification scheme advocated. Reasoning methods for managing uncertainty are explained, in which the Bayesian and Dempster-Shafer calculi are cited as primary numerical schemes.
Elicitation of qualitative knowledge on benthic invertebrates is described. The specificity of benthic response to changes in water quality leads to the adoption of a sensor model of data interpretation, in which a reference set of taxa provide probabilistic support for the biological classes. The significance of sensor states, including that of absence, is shown. Novel techniques of directly eliciting the required uncertainty measures are presented.
Bayesian and Dempster-Shafer calculi were used to combine the evidence provided by the sensors. The performance of these automatic classifiers was compared with the expert's own discrete classification of sampled sites. Variations of sensor data weighting, combination order and belief representation were examined for their effect on classification performance. The behaviour of the calculi under evidential conflict and alternative combination rules was investigated.
Small variations in evidential weight and the inclusion of evidence from sensors absent from a sample improved classification performance of Bayesian belief and support for singleton hypotheses. For simple support, inclusion of absent evidence decreased classification rate. The performance of Dempster-Shafer classification using consonant belief functions was comparable to Bayesian and singleton belief.
Recommendations are made for further work in biological classification using uncertain reasoning methods, including the combination of multiple-expert opinion, the use of Bayesian networks, and the integration of classification software within a decision support system for water quality assessment.
Date of AwardJun 1995
Original languageEnglish
SupervisorDavid Just (Supervisor)


  • Bayes
  • Dempster-Shafer reasoning
  • knowledge elicitation
  • biological surveillance
  • river water quality

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