Dr. Ruth Patrick

Using aquatic diversity to assess water quality

contributed by Erin Larson @ernlarson


Animals, Aquatic, Biodiversity, Community ecology, Ecology, Environmental change, Environmental justice, Field, Freshwater, Fundamental research, Historical figure, Lab, North America, Observational, Physiological/organismal ecology, Plants, Species richness, Woman



View and download in google slides here 


Note: click the gear symbol or see below for notes that accompany the presentation


Other Resources

Patrick, Ruth, and Drew M. Palavage. (1994). The Value of Species as Indicators of Water Quality. Proceedings of the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia, 145, 55-92. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/4064985


Presentation Notes


Researcher’s Background

Dr. Ruth Patrick was a pioneering limnologist and diatom expert. She helped pioneer using biodiversity metrics as a way of measuring ecosystem health and response to pollutants.


Biography in brief

“Born in Topeka, Kansas, in 1907, Ruth Patrick spent most of her childhood in Kansas City, Missouri. Her interest in the natural sciences was shaped by her father’s passion for the natural world. As a young girl, she would accompany her father and sister on collecting excursions into nearby woods.“I collected everything: worms and mushrooms and plants and rocks,” Dr. Patrick told an interviewer in 2004. At the age of seven, she received her first microscope. She was hooked. Dr. Patrick obtained a degree in biology from Coker College, South Carolina, in 1929 and advanced degrees from the University of Virginia. Her long association with the Academy of Natural Sciences began in 1933 as an unpaid researcher and volunteer curator of the Microscopy Department. She was finally put onto the payroll in 1945.” – From the Acadamy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University. 


See more biographical information about Ruth here:



Axes of identity & underrepresentation

In her early career, Ruth Patrick worked in microscopy without pay, but she ultimately received the National Medal of Science and was recognized for her work during her life time. The reason I think she is an interesting example to include is that she is someone who was a very successful woman in science, during a time when there were not many women being recognized in that field. 

Research Overview


Take home message of study

This paper looks at the pollution tolerance of different aquatic organisms (macroinvertebrates, fish and algae) to assess water quality in the Delaware and Neches Estuaries and the Flint River. 


Study system

This is an illustration of diatoms by the scientific illustrator, Ernst Haeckl from ‘Kunstformen der Natur” (1904). Ruth Patrick was a diatom expert, who wrote the book “Diatoms of the United States”


Key Research Points


Main contributions/Key Figure

This figure shows the ratio of pollution tolerant to natural water species (those found in unpolluted waters) of algae at different sampling points in the Delaware Estuary. Ratio values greater than 1 indicate more pollution-tolerant species than pollution intolerant species.


Societal Relevance

Ruth Patrick’s work on monitoring water quality was really important for understanding pollution effects on drinking water. She consulted for industry and governmental organizations about pollution issues in fresh water. 

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