An assessment of the health of two rivers within Harare, Zimbabwe, on the basis of macroinvertebrate community structure and selected physicochemical variables

  • C Phiri Lake Chivero Fisheries Research Station, P Bag BE 60, Belvedere, Harare, Zimbabwe


The aim of this study was to assess and compare the water quality of the Gwebi and Mukuvisi Rivers, on the basis of selected physicochemical variables and macroinvertebrate community structure. Five sites where selected on both rivers and these were sampled on three separate occasions between January and July of 1998. The water variables measured were the concentrations of iron, chromium, zinc, lead, copper, manganese, chlorides, fluorides, sulphates, total phosphates, nitrates, ammonia, total dissolved salts, dissolved oxygen, biological oxygen demand, as well as pH, conductivity, temperature, water surface velocity and discharge. The concentration of most of the chemical variables was relatively similar along the course of the Gwebi River, but there were drastic increases in the levels of iron, chromium, copper, zinc, chlorides, fluorides, sulphates, and ammonia along the Mukuvisi River. The two rivers were different with respect to the physicochemical variables, with the exception of the first site on the Mukuvisi, which was similar to sites on the Gwebi River. This was because of the differences in the levels of human activities on the two rivers. Industrial, sewage and domestic pollution has had an adverse effect on the water quality of the Mukuvisi River. There was a sharp decline in the number of macroinvertebrate taxa along the Mukuvisi River. The lower reaches of the river where dominated by oligochaetes and Chironimidae larvae. Sample score classification of water quality based on the South African Scoring System Version 4 (SASS4) showed that most of the Mukuvisi river had poor quality water quality, whilst much of the Gwebi River had fair quality water. The HABS1 habitat assessment index was used to assess habitat quality at each site. Although much of the Mukuvisi recorded fair to good habitat scores and had generally higher habitat scores than sites on the Gwebi, the SASS scores were generally lower compared to those along the Gwebi. The sample scores and average score per taxon (ASPT) of the SASS4 showed that the Mukuvisi River was of much lower quality than the Gwebi. Both the sample score and ASPT were negatively and significantly (p<0.05) correlated to most of the physicochemical variables. The water quality variables accounted for 61.1% and 59.0% of the differences in the sample score and ASPT respectively. There was a marginal decrease in the Margalef and Shannon indices along the Gwebi River, but the Simpson's index remained relatively constant. Along the Mukuvisi River, there was a clear and distinct decrease in the magnitude of all three diversity indices, indicating decreasing macroinvertebrate community structure. The change in water physicochemical variables accounted for 61.3%, 69.2% and 87.2% of the changes in the Margalef, Shannon and Simpson's index respectively. The study provides evidence that the changes in macroinvertebrate community structure along the Mukuvisi River is due to decline in the water quality. On the Gwebi, water quality is not the main factor determining macroinvertebrate community structure.

Keywords: Biomonitoring; river health; Gwebi River; Mukuvisi River; Zimbabwe; physico-chemistry; macroinvertebrates

(Afr J Aqua Sci: 2000 25: 134-145)

Journal Identifiers

eISSN: 1727-9364
print ISSN: 1608-5914