Phytobenthic diatoms and macrophyte communities respond differently to stressors in aquatic environments. For the assessment of the ecological status of rivers in Slovenia, we use several indices, including the River Macrophyte Index (RMI) and Trophic index (TI) based on macrophyte and phytobenthic diatoms communities, respectively. In the present study, we examined the relationships between nutrient variables and values of RMI and TI using varied stressor gradient lengths. We also aimed to explain the variability of macrophyte and diatom communities with different stressors, namely nutrients and land cover variables and their combinations. The relationships of RMI and TI with nutrient variables varied significantly and were affected by the length of the stressor gradient. We obtained a stronger relationship between the RMI and total phosphorous at an approximately <0.3-mg/L annual mean value, while, for the relationships with the TI, the values were significant at bigger gradient lengths. The greatest share of variability in the macrophyte and diatom community was explained by the combination of land use and nutrient variables and the lowest share by phosphorus and nitrogen variables. When we applied a composite stressor gradient, it explained a similar share of the variability of both macrophyte and diatom communities (up to 26%). A principal component analysis (PCA) based on land use and nutrient stressor gradient revealed that the relationship between RMI EQR and PCA1 that represents intensive agriculture depends on the length of the gradient. The relationship was stronger for shorter gradients at lower values and decreased as the gradient extended towards higher values. Both tested assessment methods showed that macrophyte communities are more sensitive to shorter stressor gradients of lower values, whereas diatom communities are more sensitive to longer stressor gradient and higher values of the stressor.
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