Journal of Environmental Protection, 2011, 2, 387-394
doi: 10.4236/jep.2011.24043 Published Online June 2011 (
Copyright © 2011 SciRes. JEP
Phytoplankton Index of Biological Integrity (P-IBI)
in Several Marshes, Southern IRAQ
Bahram K. Maulood1, Abdul Hameed M. Jawad Alobaidy2, Azhar Alsaboonchi3, Haider S. Abid4,
Ghasak S. Alobaidy1
1Twin Rivers Institute, American University of Iraq-Sulaimani, Sulaimani, Iraq; 2Environmental Research Center, University of
Technology, Baghdad, Iraq; 3Department of Fisheries and Marine Resources, University of Basrah, Basrah, Iraq; 4Department of
Biology, College of Science for Women, University of Baghdad, Baghdad, Iraq.
Received January 20, 2011; revised February 24, 2011; accepted April 10, 2011.
Indices of Biological Integrity (IBIs) are being increasingly used as useful and direct tools for assessing general health
of aquatic ecosystems. Although such ecosystems in Iraq, especially the southern marshes, underwent severe alterations
during the last two decades, including extensive desiccation in the 1990s, such tools are largely lacking. Phytoplankton
Index of Biological Integrity (P-IBI) was developed from data collected seasonally from 2005 up to 2007 in different
sites of the southern marshes of Iraq to evaluate the trend of these ecosystems based on phytoplankton data. Ten metrics
were selected for measuring P-IBI for the first time in Iraq as a proposed project from Nature Iraq and Twin Rivers
Institute, American University of Iraq-Sulaimani. Although generally fluctuated both spatially and temporally, mean
P-IBI scores showed better conditions in Al Hawizeh marsh (Good) as compared to the Central and West & East Al
Hammar marsh es (Fair to Good). However, the results generally indicated evidence of improvement at the Central and
West & East Al Hammar marshes, whereas no recovery o f the status of water was evident throughout the data obta ined
at Al Hawizeh marsh. Values were generally higher in winter. These observations clearly reflect the relative stab ility of
the Hawizeh marsh ecosystem which was not subject to the desiccation process in the 1990s, while the severely dried
systems of the Central and Hammar marshes are showing positive responses to the restoration efforts that were started
after 2003. Among the ten metrics comprising the index, relative abundance of diatoms had the most prominent effect
on the P-IBI value in the three marshes. Metrics such as chlorophyll- a concentration and relative abundance of
Cyanophyta and Chlorophyta also played a significant role in determining the index value. Continuous monitoring
based on the selection of the most suitable metrics is recommended.
Keywords: IBI, Nature Iraq, Marshes, Aquatic Ecology
1. Introduction
Index of biological Integrity (IBI) has been proven to be
an important assessment tool for evaluating the resource
quality of aquatic ecosystems [1]. Multimetric indices are
increasingly common as resource and ecosystem man-
agement tools and are often more robust than their com-
ponent metrics [2].
Ecologists have tried to measure ecosystem health and
its integrity through the development of indices of bio-
logical integrity. Karr [3] was the first who devised an
index to measure biological integrity in a stream using
fish indicator species in Central Illinois. This index has
been adapted and modified to use benthic macroinver-
tebrates as indicators and to evaluate the integrity of es-
tuarine ecosystems [4,5]. Different measures of phyto-
plankton taxonomy, abundance and biomass have been
used extensively to document the effects of eutrophica-
tion [6,7]. Multible phytoplankton metrics have been
used in ecosystem indices for several estuaries [8]. The
planktonic index of biological integrity was developed
recently using zooplankt on and phytoplankton data [9].
The phytoplankton index of biological integrity (P-IBI)
has been proved to be a management tool to assess
phytoplankton community status relative to nutrient and
light conditions in an ecosystem [2].
In measuring the physical and chemical properties of
water, biological properties have often been overlooked
[10]. Likewise, monitoring the concentrations of various
Phytoplankton Index of Biological Integrity (P-IBI) in Several Marshes, Southern IRAQ
chemicals often misses a number of human-induced
problems. In addition, physical and chemical attributes
usually don’t serve well as surrogates for the measure of
biological properties [11,12]. A more informative method
would be to use biological data to measure community
directly, rather than the use of physical and chemical
measures that indirectly affect the biota.
Zooplankton and phytoplankton communities vary in
their composition and abundance over time, both on sea-
sonal and inter-annual basis [13,14]. Therefore, studies
on seasonal succession of zooplankton and phytoplank-
ton communities will provide an important paradigm to
general ecology [15].
Plankton is sensitive to environmental changes [16]
and comprises a necessary component of a useful moni-
toring program. Further, plankton is inexpensive to col-
lect, samples can be stored for long periods, don’t take
up large amount of space and historical samples can be
compared with current samples. Arguably, all compo-
nents of a water body function are influenced in major
ways by the dynamics of phytoplankton and zooplankton.
Phytoplankton are the primary producers whereas zoo-
plankton is the central trophic link between primary pro-
ducers and fish [17,18].
Phytoplankton has been used as indicators of nutrient
conditions as well as pollution in water [19]. Rawson [20]
discussed the ratio of centric to pennate diatoms as being
indicator of trophic conditions. Trophic status of any
water body may be indicated by different phytoplankton
taxa or a number of ratios between different groups [21].
Diatoms could be used for monitoring environmental
changes including changes in trophic status of water
bodies [22].
Macroinvertebrates are more sensitive to changes in
habitat diversity and quality than to changes in water
quality to which diatoms respond in a better way. Th ere-
fore, biological assessments based on both communities
are useful for describing the ecological status of an eco-
system. The effect of enrichment of organic pollution and
eutrophication as a consequence lead to the use of dia-
toms for biomonitoring the aquatic ecosystems [23].
In general, biological integrity is an ecosystem prop-
erty that can be defined as the capability of supporting
and maintaining a balanced, integrated, and adaptive
community of organisms having a species composition,
diversity and functional organization comparable to that
of natural habitats of the region [11].
The P-IBI uses different metrics. Sommer et al. [13]
classified values from these planktonic metrics in order
to reflect different levels of trophic status. Lacouture et al.
[2] have chosen thirty eight planktonic metrics; different
combinations of these metrics were scored and used to
build phytoplankton community indices for different
reasons in four stations in Chesapeake Bay. Scoring cri-
teria for each metric were evaluated for their ability to
discriminate between least impaired and impaired condi-
tions. Different statistical tests were applied in order to
identify the most discriminatory metric. Solimini et al.
[24] calculated thirty one metrics based on taxa richness,
pollution tolerance, habit and functional feeding groups
in order to develop a multimetric index of ecological
integrity of mountain ponds in central Italy.
The purpose of the presen t project is to apply a metric
index of biological integrity for phytoplankton to be used
in the evaluation of the health of the marshes’ water in
southern Iraq. In parallel, part of the project was dealing
with zooplankton index of biological integrity that is in
the process of publishing. Application of IBI in the
southern marshes for the first time in Iraq will undoubt-
edly encourage other scientists to apply it in other parts
of Iraq. Nevertheless, this study comes under the project
of Ecological Indices in our country that has been pro-
posed and supported by Nature Iraq and Twin Rivers
Institute, American University of Iraq-Sulaimani in order
to reorganize the parameters used for water monitoring in
2. Methods
Data used in the present study were obtained from Nature
Iraq’s Key Biodiversity Areas (KBA) project. Briefly,
phytoplankton samples were collected on monthly basis
from different sites and different locations in Al Hawizeh
Marsh, Central Marsh and East and West of Al Hammar
Marsh (Figure 1). Data were arranged seasonally (sum-
mer and winter from 2005 to 2007).
Phytoplankton samples were taken by a 20 µ mesh
size net. Known volume of water was filtered for quan-
tity studies. Identificatio n of species was done by a com-
pound microscope and the following references [25-30]
were used.
Total density of species was calculated by the sum of
monthly densities of each species. Then species were
placed according to proper metrics. Phytoplankton met-
rics used for this analysis included: phytoplankton den-
sity (cell/L3), relative abundance of Centrales, relative
abundance of Pennales, relative abundance of diatoms,
relative abundance of Chlorophyceae, relative abundance
of Cyanophyceae, relative abundance of inedible algae,
relative abundance of edible algae, concentration of
Chlorophyll-a (mg/l) and richness index.
Metric raw data (percentages of densities) were con-
verted into metric scores after being subjected to a scale
of thresholds of 1, 3 and 5 [3] (Table 1). The develop-
ment of these thresholds was performed according to [31]
based on the existing historical data and professional
judgment. Thus, a threshold f 5 was given for metrics o
Copyright © 2011 SciRes. JEP
Phytoplankton Index of Biological Integrity (P-IBI) in Several Marshes, Southern IRAQ
Copyright © 2011 SciRes. JEP
Figure 1. Study sites in Al Hawizeh, Centr al, and Al Hammar marshes.
Table 1. Scoring criteria of different sites of the Marshes.
Scoring Criteria
Metrics 1 3 5
Phytoplankton Density >4000 4000 - 2000 2000 - 1000
R.A. of Centrales >35% 35% - 25% <20%
R.A. of Pennales 30% 30% - 40% 40% - 95%
R.A. of Diatoms <30% 30% - 60% >60%
R.A. of Chlorophyceae <5% 5% - 18% > 18%
R.A. of Cyanophyceae >30% 30% - 20% <20%
Concentration of Chlorophyll-a >5 5 - 3 <3
R.A. of inedible algae > 20% 20% - 15% <15%
R.A. of edible algae <60% 60% - 80% > 80%
Richness Index <30 30 - 70 >70
.A. = Relative Abundance.
Phytoplankton Index of Biological Integrity (P-IBI) in Several Marshes, Southern IRAQ
that has values equal or near to reference condition, 3
was given to those of medium conditions and 1 to those
of worst conditions. In addition, according to Astin [32],
these values reflect those more traditional measures of
trophic status. The sums of these metric scores for each
site were calculated seasonally as the P-IBI. However,
the maximum value of P-IBI in this study would be 50,
derived from multiplying the number of metrics (10) by
the maximum score for each metric (5). The final index
scores were grouped in five rating categories of “Excel-
lent”, “Good” , “Fair”, “Poor” and “Very Poor” as in
Table 2 [3]. A value close to 50 indicates that streams
biology is equivalent to what would be found in a natural
condition. A value close to 10 ind icates a poor biological
condition within the eco system. Table 2 shows th e cu toff
values for the IBI scores and qualitative interpretation
according to Karr [3]. The P-IBI values were categorized
as Excellent, Good, Fair, Poor and Very Poor. The
minimal and maximal cutoff values for each category
represent the outcome of multiplying th e minimal (i.e., 1)
and the maximal (i.e., 5) scoring criteria by the total
number of metrics comprising the index (i.e., 10).
3. Results
Three sites were selected at Al Hawizeh Marsh [Umm Al
Niáj (HZ1), Al Udhaim (HZ2) and Al Sewalif (HZ3)].
The results of P-IBI ranged between 34 - 50 (Fair to Ex-
cellent ecosystem condition) indicating the fluctuation in
the status of these sites. The higher values were observed
in HZ2 site during winter 2007, while the lower values
were observed in HZ1 and HZ2 sites during summer
2006 and 2007 respectively (Table 3). B-IBI values in
HZ1 were reduced from 42.0 to 36.0 and from 43.0 to
38.0 through summers 2005 to summer 2007 and winter
2006 to winter 2007 respectively. This phenomenon was
evident at site HZ2 through summer. In contrast, an im-
provement was observed, where the B-IBI values were
increased from 46.0 to 50.0 through winter 2006 and
2007 respectively. An improvement of the values was
observed at site HZ3 in summer throughout 2005, 2006
and 2007. Generally, HZ1, HZ2 and HZ3 sites display
Table 2. Cutoff values of IBI scores and relevant
qualitative interpretations for ecosystem condition.
10 Metric IBI Score Ecosystem Condition
46 - 50 Excellent
38 - 44 Good
28 - 36 Fair
18 - 26 Poor
10 - 16 Very Poor
Table 3. Seasonal variation for P-IBI at different sites of Al
Hawizeh Marsh.
Sites Summer
2005 Winter
2006 Summer
2006 Winter
2007 Summer
HZ1 42.0 43.0 34.0 38.0 36.0
HZ2 46.0 46.0 * 50.0 34.0
HZ3 38.0 * 46.0 46.0 46.0
Mean 42.0 44.5 40.0 44.7 38.7
*Sample not t aken.
“Fair-Good”, “Fair-Excellent” and “Good-Excellent”
ecosystem condition and never declined to poor or very
poor cases. The mean P-IBI values indicated that this
marsh exhibit “Good” ecosystem condition throughout
the study periods. Nevertheless, the mean P-IBI values
were reduced from 42.0 to 38.70 throughout the succes-
sive years.
Seven sites were selected at the Central Marshes to
determine P-IBI [Before Al Baghdadia (CM1), Al Ham-
mara Al kabera (CM2), East of Al Hammara Al kabera
(CM3), West of Al Baghdadia (CM4), Zichryi (CM5), Al
Baseeta (CM6) and Al Khinziry (CM7)]. The results for
different stations of the Central Marsh are shown in Ta-
ble 4. Values of P-IBI ranged between 22 - 47 (Poor to
Excellent ecosystem condition) indicating also more
fluctuation in the status of these sites. Values of P-IBI
varied between different sites and seasonal variations
were evident.
The higher values were observed in CM4 site during
winter 2006, while the lower values were observed in
CM6 site during summer 2006.
Table 4. Seasonal variation for P-IBI at different sites of the
Central Marsh.
Sites Summer
2005 Winter
2006 Summer
2006 Winter
2007 Summer
CM1 * * 36.0 42.0 32.0
CM2 24.0 34.0 * 42.0 42.0
CM3 * 34.0 28.0 36.0 31.0
CM4 26.0 47.0 32.0 42.0 32.0
CM5 34.0 * 28.0 42.0 30.0
CM6 24.0 32.0 22.0 38.0 38.0
CM7 30.0 42.0 36.0 42.0 42.0
Mean 27.6 37.8 30.33 40.57 35.29
*Sample not t aken.
Copyright © 2011 SciRes. JEP
Phytoplankton Index of Biological Integrity (P-IBI) in Several Marshes, Southern IRAQ391
At site CM1, levels of P-IBI ranged between 32.0 -
42.0, while in CM2 values were between 24.0 - 42.0. In
general, the values of P-IBI were relatively higher in
winter at both sites. Similarly, the values of P-IBI were
higher in winter at the site CM3. Scores of 34.0 and 36.0
were recorded in winter 2006 and 2007, respectively,
whereas values of summer were 28.0 and 31.0 during the
same years.
At site CM4 values of P-IBI ranged between 26.0 -
47.0, the highest value was recorded during winter 2006
and the lowest value at summer 2005. Higher values in
winter in contrast to summer were also evident in this
site. Values of P-IBI at CM5 reflected the same trend and
ranged between 27.0 in summer 2006 to 42.0 in winter
2007. However, the values were reduced from 34.0 to
30.0 between summer 2005 and summer 2007. At site
CM6, low value (22.0) for P-IBI was recorded at summer
2006 while the value increased during summer and win-
ter 2007 (38.0 in both seasons). An improvement of
P-IBI was evident throughout 2007 in this site. Values of
P-IBI at site CM7 were between 30.0 - 42.0 during sum-
mer 2005 and summer 2007, respectively.
Generally, CM1, CM2, CM3, CM5 and CM7 sites dis-
play “Fair” or “Fair-Good” ecosystem condition, while
CM4 and CM6 sites exhibit “Poor-Excellent” and “Poor-
Good” ecosystem condition respectively. In general, the
values of P-IBI were relatively higher in winter. The
mean P-IBI values also indicated that this marsh exhibit
“Fair-Good” ecosystem condition throughout the study
periods. With few exceptions an improvement of P-IBI
was evident through out 2007 in this marsh.
The metric scores and P-IBI values for West & East Al
Hammar Marsh were extracted for nine sites (Table 5).
Values of P-IBI ranged between 22 - 44 (Poor to Good
ecosystem condition) indicating also fluctuation in the
status of these sites. Values of P-IBI varied between dif-
ferent sites and seasonal variations were also evident.
The higher values were observed in HA1 and HA9
sites during summer and winter 2007 respectively, while
the lower values were observed in HA4 site during sum-
mer 2005. Generally, an improvement of P-IBI was evi-
dent in the all stud y sites except HA5 site throughout the
successive years. Nevertheless, at Aum Nakhla (HA5),
the degradation of the values was evident as they were
reduced from 42.0 to 38.0 and 36.0 throughout summer
2005, 2006, and 2007 respectively, reflecting “Good-Fair”
ecosystem condition. Values in this site were higher in
summer 2005 and 2006 in contrast to all other stations,
and vice versa for summer 2007. HA1 and HA3 sites
displayed “Poor-Good” ecosystem condition while HA4
site exhibit “Poor-Fair” ecosystem condition. Undoubt-
edly, HA2, HA6, HA7, HA8 and HA9 sites exhibit
“Fair-Good” ecosystem condition. Values in HA1 were
Table 5. Seasonal variations of P-IBI at different sites of
West & East Al Hammar Marsh.
Sites Summer
2005 Winter
2006 Summer
2006 Winter
2007 Summer
HA1 26.0 * * 43.0 44.0
HA2 28.0 * 28.0 42.0 42.0
HA3 24.0 * 38.0 40.0 *
HA4 22.0 * * 32.0 *
HA5 42.0 * 38.0 40.0 36.0
HA6 30.0 * 32.0 42.0 *
HA7 30.0 40.0 28.0 36.0 34.0
HA8 34.0 36.0 28.0 40.0 38.0
HA9 * 40.0 35.0 44.0 42.0
Mean 29.5 38.7 32.43 39.89 39.33
*Sample not t aken.
increased from 26.0 to 44.0 through summer 2005 to
summer 2007. This trend was evident at site HA2, as
values increased from 28.0 in summer 2005 and 2006 to
42.0 in winter and summer 2007, respectively. At site
HA3 the values raised from 24.0 to 40.0. This case is
also true for Near Al Buhaira station (HA4), as the vale
increased from 22.0 to 32.0. At HA6, values ranged from
30.0 to 42.0. The higher values were observed in winter.
At site HA7, values of P-IBI ranged between 28.0 and
40.0; generally a fluctuation in values was observed dur-
ing summer, whereas degradation was evident in winter
values as they failed from 40.0 to 36.0 throughout 2006
and 2007, respectively. Similarity, at site HA8 values
varied between 28.0 and 40.0. A fluctuation in values
was also observed during summer, whereas an improve-
ment was evident in winter. The last station of this site
was HA9, in which an improvement of the values was
observed both in summer and winter throughout 2006
and 2007. Nevertheless, values were higher in winter in
this site as well. In general, mean P-IBI values in West &
East Al Hammar Marsh were increased from 29.50 to
39.89 throughout the successive years.
In general, the values of P-IBI were relatively higher
in winter. The mean P-IBI values also indicated that this
marsh exhibit “Fair-Good” ecosystem condition through-
out the study periods.
4. Discussion
Phytoplanktons are the first response assemblage of or-
ganisms directly affected by water quality conditions [2].
They are also the basis of food web in aquatic environ-
Copyright © 2011 SciRes. JEP
Phytoplankton Index of Biological Integrity (P-IBI) in Several Marshes, Southern IRAQ
ments. Therefore, it is important to monitor phytoplank-
ton in nature. P-IBI bioassessment approach is one
method of evaluating phytoplankton monitoring data.
Biological metrics may be expected to provide a quanti-
tative signal of the biota responses to environmental
stressors [33].
Ten metrics of phytoplankton were used in the present
study (Table 1). Phytoplankton density was used because
its ease of measurement and its values are directly pro-
portional to the productivity. Chlorophyll-a (Chl-a) met-
ric which is the most widely used measure of phyto-
plankton biomass is also applied through this study. Rate
of photosynthesis is directly proportional to the amount
of chlorophyll, cellular concentration of Chl-a varies
depending on taxonomic composition, nutrient availabil-
ity, temperature and light intensity [34]. The remaining
metrics used for the P-IBI in this study are either the
abundance of particular group or the proportion made up
by specific taxonomic group, such as Cyanophyta that
often occu r in bloom densities during spring an d summer
in mesohaline areas [35], the area which can be con-
trasted to Iraqi southern marshes. Diatoms (Bacillario-
phyta) abundance was another metric applied and it has
often been used in P-IBI studies. Diatoms are often high
in number in mesohaline and polyhaline areas and during
the summer in tidal fresh and oligohaline areas [36].
In general, P-IBI values in AL Hawizeh marsh were
reduced from 42.00 to 38.70 throughout the successive
years 2005, 200 6 and 2007. D ensity of ch lorophyll-a and
relative abundance of Cyanophyta and diatoms (Data not
shown) might be behind such phenomenon. However,
these values were undoubtedly been affected by deterio-
ration of water quality of Tigris and Euphrates in one
hand and desiccation of the marshes on the other hand
which affected the soil, besides the burning process that
took place several times. This ultimately led to different
chemical and physical characters of water in contrast to
the original status. These results come in accordance to
those of zooplankton IBI (Z-IBI) in the same area (paper
under preparation). A continuous monitoring and sam-
pling in shorter intervals with considering more stations
in the area may well lead to better understanding. No
evidence of recovery of the status of water quality in
respect to P-IBI was observed throughout this study in
this region of the marshes. In contrast, degradations were
Central Marsh was represented by seven stations
(Figure 1). In general, values varied from Poor to Excel-
lent ecosystem condition (22 - 47). It is evident (Ta b l e 4 )
that there was significant recovery in water quality with
the time. Generally the Central marsh showed slight im-
provement in the aquatic environment in respect to the
mean P-IBI values. This was particularly clear through-
out stations CM2, CM6 and CM7. An increasing phyto-
plankton density, especially diatoms and Chlorophyta
(data not shown) was observed in this area. Generally
values of P-IBI were lower in summer in comparison to
winter throughout almost all stations in the Central
Marsh. This might be because of the decrease in popula-
tion of diatoms, quantity of chlorophyll and the increase
in percentage of inedible algae during summer season
(Data not shown). In fact, the Central Marsh has severely
faced the application of drying policy of the previous
regimen. The recovery action soon after 2003 is clearly
reflected on the concurrent results in the area. However,
results of P-IBI came in accordance to those of Z-IBI
observations at the same area (paper under preparation).
The P-IBI values for West and East Al Hammar marsh
were covered at nine stations (Table 5). Results reflect a
progressive improvement in the values throughout 2005,
2006 and 2007, particularly in summer in most stations.
However, higher values were observed in winter in con-
trast to summer in this marsh. Undoubtedly, effect of the
drainage areas and rain might be behind this variation.
A continuous monitoring for progressive improvement
should be established by using different IBI applications.
Nevertheless, the results generally come in accordance to
Z-IBI (unpublished paper) results that were carried out at
the same time in the same area.
P-IBI has not yet been applied in any aquatic ecosys-
tem in Iraq. Therefore, this study might lead to succes-
sive application of P-IBI in other inland waters. This
investigation might lead to finding out the most useful
metrics to be included in P-IBI in Iraq in the near future.
In conclusion, the multimetric P-IBI was developed for
the first time for the Iraqi marshe s water; it can provid e a
useful way to monitor the changes in the water quality,
which means changing in the trophic status of the water.
5. Acknowledgements
The fund for this work was kindly provided by Nature
Iraq (NI) and Twin Rivers Institute, the American Uni-
versity of Iraq-Sulaimani (TRI-AUIS). We highly appre-
ciate their support. We also acknowledge Haider Ah med,
Ali Mohammed and Hussam Jabbar for their efforts in
field sampling.
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