Riverine and palustrine wetland plant communities were examined in order to propose a multimetric plant index of biotic integrity. The objectives were to determine the structural and functional attributes of these wetland plant communities, calibrate reference conditions in assessing aquatic plant communities, provide methods for further development and testing of the index, and present a case study. The index is based on a rapid assessment method using the information collected from a species list and cover estimates. Sampling was done using a modified relevé
sampling approach with a modified Braun-Blanquet Cover Abundance Scale Method for estimating percent cover. More than 20 characteristics of aquatic plant communities were evaluated and 12 metrics in five categories were developed. Structural metrics focused on community composition, key indicator species such as number of Carex and Potamogeton species, and guild type. Functional metrics included sensitivity and tolerance measures; percent emergent, pioneer, and obligate wetland species; and the number of weed species as a substitute metric. Abundance was estimated based on evenness of average cover densities. Individual condition was suggested as a measure of the lowest extremes of biotic integrity. Palustrine study sites ranged across a disturbance gradient from ‘least-impacted’ to ‘poor'; riverine study sites ranged from high quality to some of the most degraded riverine sites in the Great Lakes region. Ninety-five species of aquatic vascular plants were found in 42 families. The most common families were Cyperaceae (15 species), Polygonaceae (9 species), and Juncaceae (6 species). Fourteen submergent, four floating, two woody and 75 emergent aquatic plant taxa were found. Five species were on the endangered, threatened, or rare list for the State of Indiana. Sites receiving the highest index scores included several of the a priori least-impacted sites while the lowest scores were located near-field to a large industrial landfill. The index will need to be further validated and tested but shows potential as a rapid index of biotic integrity using aquatic plant assemblages.