Spence Cheruvelil, K., P.A. Soranno, M.T. Bremigan, T. Wagner, and S.L. Martin. 2008. Grouping lakes for water quality assessment and monitoring: the roles of regionalization and spatial scale. Environmental Management 41:425-440.
Regionalization frameworks cluster geographic data to create contiguous regions of similar climate, geology and hydrology by delineating land into discrete regions, such as ecoregions or watersheds, often at several spatial scales. Although most regionalization schemes were not originally designed for aquatic ecosystem classification or management, they are often used for such purposes, with surprisingly few explicit tests of the relative ability of different regionalization frameworks to group lakes for water quality monitoring and assessment. We examined which of 11 different lake grouping schemes at two spatial scales best captures the maximum amount of variation in water quality among regions for total nutrients, water clarity, chlorophyll, overall trophic state, and alkalinity in 479 lakes in Michigan (USA). We conducted analyses on two data sets: one that included all lakes and one that included only minimally disturbed lakes. Using hierarchical linear models that partitioned total variance into within-region and among-region components, we found that ecological drainage units and 8-digit hydrologic units most consistently captured among-region heterogeneity at their respective spatial scales using all lakes (variation among lake groups = 3% to 50% and 12% to 52%, respectively). However, regionalization schemes capture less among-region variance for minimally disturbed lakes. Diagnostics of spatial autocorrelation provided insight into the relative performance of regionalization frameworks but also demonstrated that region size is only partly responsible for capturing variation among lakes. These results suggest that regionalization schemes can provide useful frameworks for lake water quality assessment and monitoring but that we must identify the appropriate spatial scale for the questions being asked, the type of management applied, and the metrics being assessed.