UW Today

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November 15, 2004

Pioneering work on biological integrity earns conservation award

News and Information

University of Washington’s James R. Karr, who helped define the characteristics of healthy waterways and developed a system for documenting aquatic well being, has received the top fishery conservation award from the American Fisheries Society.

The society, the nation’s oldest and largest professional organization representing fisheries scientists, gave its Carl R. Sullivan Fishery Conservation Award to Karr earlier this year in recognition of his career achievements in developing information and assessment procedures that have improved management of aquatic ecosystems, according to the society. He is a UW professor of fisheries and aquatic sciences who also has appointments in biology, civil engineering, environmental health and public affairs.

He is perhaps best known for developing the “index of biotic integrity,” a set of measurements that take account of what is living in a body of water — from the plants and insects on up to the amphibians and fish. Karr says the system gives a clearer picture of the health of a waterway than narrowly focusing on levels of chemical contaminants.

“The most direct and effective measure of the condition of a water body is the status of its living systems,” Karr says. The index also provides a way to evaluate the effects of human actions on the health of living systems.

Both researchers and managers use the index of biotic integrity because it is ecologically sound and mathematically understandable, the society says. It is widely recommended by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for various types of aquatic assessments. It is used in the biological assessment programs of the majority of U.S. states and many other countries.

Along with his work concerning stream ecology and watershed management, Karr also has taught and done research in tropical forest ecology, ornithology, conservation biology, landscape ecology and environmental policy.

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Karr, (206) 685-4784, jrkarr@u.washington.edu