A general characterization of the water quality of representative rivers of Serra do Cipó, State of Minas Gerais, Brazil is provided as well as the composition and distribution of benthic macroinvertebrates, mainly Plecoptera, Ephemeroptera, Trichoptera and Diptera (Chironomidae). These data are used as a basis to propose a river classification for the area, comprising three major categories: undisturbed waters (Class 1), with no evidence of human influences and showing high taxa richness; waters with intermediate disturbances (Class 2), showing some degree of change in the quality of their trophic resources, due mainly to the influence of human activities (e.g., deforestation, sewage discharges); and disturbed waters (Class 3), showing evidence of eutrophication, although still preserving some diversity of benthic organisms. This proposed classification system, although broad and simple, is believed to provide the necessary basic scientific information to allow for definition of conservation policies in the area, thus contributing to the preservation of rivers and their associated biota.

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