Worldwide river systems are under pressure from human development. River managers need to identify the most important stressors in a stream basin, to propose effective management interventions for river restoration. In the European Union, the Water Framework Directive proposes the ecological status as the management endpoint for these interventions. Many decision support tools exist that use predictive water quality models to evaluate different river management scenarios, but only a few consider a river’s ecological status in this analysis explicitly. This paper presents a novel method, which combines abiotic monitoring data and biological monitoring data, to provide information and insight on why the ecological status does not reach the good status. We use habitat suitability models as a decision support tool, which can identify the most important stressors in river systems to define management scenarios. To this end, we disassemble the ecological status into its individual building blocks, i.e., the community composition, and we use habitat suitability models to perform an ecological gap analysis. In this paper, we present our method and its underlying ecological concepts, and we illustrate its benefits by applying the method on a regional level for Flanders using a biotic index, the Multimetric Macroinvertebrate Index Flanders (MMIF). To evaluate our method, we calculated the number of correctly classified instances (CCI = 47.7%) and the root-mean-square error (RMSE = 0.18) on the MMIF class and the MMIF value. Furthermore, there is a monotonic decreasing relationship between the results of the priority classification and the ecological status expressed by the MMIF, which is strengthened by the inclusion of ecological concepts in our method (Pearson’s R2
−0.92 vs. −0.87). In addition, the results of our method are complementary to information derived from the legal targets set for abiotic variables. Thus, our proposed method can further optimize the inclusion of monitoring data for the sake of sustainable decisions in river management.
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