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Macroinvertebrates and Bioassessment : Using Biological Indicators to Measure Stream Health Caitlin Chaffee URI Cooperative Extension. Presentation Outline. Measuring Human Impacts Biological Monitoring Macroinvertebrates as Indicators Benthic Index of Biotic Integrity

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Macroinvertebrates and Bioassessment: Using Biological Indicators to Measure Stream HealthCaitlin Chaffee URI Cooperative Extension

presentation outline
Presentation Outline
  • Measuring Human Impacts
  • Biological Monitoring
  • Macroinvertebrates as Indicators
  • Benthic Index of Biotic Integrity
  • Macroinvertebrate Sampling Methods
  • Common Macroinvertebrates
measuring human impacts
Measuring Human Impacts

Changes in land use affect watershed resources:

  • Changes in hydrology
  • Changes in water quality
  • Changes in stream morphology
  • Changes in stream ecology
measuring human impacts1
Measuring Human Impacts

Increased development

= Increased Impervious Surface


Effects of Development on site Hydrology

40% evapotranspiration

38% evapotranspiration

10% runoff

20% runoff

25% shallow infiltration

21% shallow infiltration

25% deep infiltration

21% deep infiltration

10 – 20% Impervious Surface

Natural Ground Cover

*Percentages are estimates


Effects of Development on site Hydrology

35% evapotranspiration

30% evapotranspiration

55% runoff

30% runoff

20% shallow infiltration

10% shallow infiltration

5% deep infiltration

15% deep infiltration

35–50% Impervious Surface

75—100% Impervious Surface

*Percentages are estimates


Hydrologic Response: Developed vs. Undeveloped Conditions


Higher overall and peak volumeShorter time to peak flow

Runoff Volume



Smaller volume, lower peakLonger time to peak flow



More runoff in a shorter amount of time

the results
The Results
  • Flooding
  • Stream bank erosion
  • Stream channel widening and deepening
  • Lower base flows
  • Sedimentation
  • More pollutant inputs
changes to water quality
Changes to Water Quality
  • Temperature
  • pH
  • Dissolved Oxygen
  • BOD
  • Nutrients (nitrogen and phosphorus)
  • Turbidity
  • Pathogens
  • Heavy metals
  • Petroleum based compounds

Measuring Human Impacts

biological indicator:groups or types of biological resources that can be used to assess environmental condition.

biological monitoring: the study of organisms and their responses to environmental condition

biological assessment: an evaluation of the biological condition of a water body using biological monitoring data and other direct measurements of resident biota in surface waters

biological integrity
Biological Integrity

“the ability to support and maintain a balanced, integrated, and adaptive community of organisms having a species composition, diversity and functional organization comparable to those of natural habitats within a region" †



Benthic Macroinvertebrates

(bottom-dwelling)(animals w/o backbones visible to naked eye)

Hydropsyche sp.

(Caddisfly larva)

Heptageniidae sp.

(Mayfly larva)

Perlodidae sp.

(Stonefly larva)

  • Great candidates for biological monitoring…
macroinvertebrates as indicators
Macroinvertebrates as Indicators
  • Limited migration patterns–good indicators of localized conditions and site-specific impacts
  • Integrate effects of human impacts
  • Easy to sample and identify
  • Broad range of habitat requirements

and sensitivities to pollution

human impacts on macroinvertebrate communities
Human Impacts on Macroinvertebrate Communities
  • Changes to water chemistry / water quality parameters
  • Changes to habitat type
characterizing macroinvertebrates
Characterizing Macroinvertebrates
  • Feeding habits (“functional feeding groups”)
  • Tolerance to Pollution
functional feeding groups the river continuum vannote et al 1980
Functional Feeding Groups: The River Continuum(Vannote et al., 1980)
  • Shredders abundant
  • Coarse POM




  • Grazers abundant
  • Higher 1° production


  • Collectors abundant
  • Fine-Ultra fine POM

Relative Channel Width

the tolerance index 0 10
The Tolerance Index0 - 10



most pollution sensitive

e.g. Stoneflies

most pollution tolerant

e.g. Midges & Leeches

contain hemoglobin, tolerate lower DO, prefer soft substrate, less sensitive to toxins

require high DO, clear water, rocky cobble substrate

macroinvertebrates as indicators1

Stonefly Water Penny Beetle Mayfly Dobsonfly

Alderfly Mussel Snipe Fly Riffle Beetle

Macroinvertebrates as Indicators

Pollution Sensitive (“Clean Water”) Benthos

macroinvertebrates as indicators2
Macroinvertebrates as Indicators

Somewhat Pollution Tolerant Benthos

Blackfly Caddisfly Isopod Cranefly

Damselfly Dragonfly Crayfish Amphipod

macroinvertebrates as indicators3
Macroinvertebrates as Indicators

Pollution Tolerant (“Polluted Water”) Benthos

Pouch Snail Midgefly Worm Leech

benthic index of biotic integrity b ibi

e.g. Taxa richness, relative abundance of certain taxa, feeding groups

e.g. Pollution, habitat degradation, flow alteration


Benthic Index of Biotic Integrity(B-IBI)
  • Index based on macroinvertebrate samples that integrates several metrics to produce an overall“health score” for a given water body

Result: dose-response curves to human impact

Generalized Plot of B-IBI Scores vs. Human Impact

IBI Score

epa s suggestions for ibi use
EPA’s Suggestions for IBI Use†
  • Nonpoint Source Pollution Assessment
  • Watershed Protection
  • TMDL Process
  • NPDES Permitting
  • Ecological Risk Assessment
  • Development of Water Quality Criteria and Standards

These are suggestions…Can IBI’s be successfully implemented in these programs?

† Barbour et al., 1999

macroinvertebrate sampling the basics
Macroinvertebrate Sampling: The Basics
  • Identify the goal – How will the data be used?
    • Regulatory purposes
    • Detect trends
    • Screening purposes
    • Educational programs
  • The goal should guide your sample design and dictate your methods
macroinvertebrate sampling the basics1
Macroinvertebrate Sampling: The Basics
  • Site selection (including reference site)
  • Site assessment
  • Organism collection and preservation
    • Standardize habitat type
    • Standardize sampling method
    • Dip net or sampler
  • Identification
    • Sample size
    • Fixed-count subsamples vs.

“whole samples”

  • Calculation
    • Select metrics
    • Calculate IBI score
    • Compare to reference score
example method rapid bioassessment protocol
Example Method: Rapid Bioassessment Protocol
  • Sampled three 1m2 sections of stream reach (riffle habitat) with dip net
  • Subsample size: 100 organisms
  • Preserved and identified organisms in each subsample
  • Calculated RBP scores for each subsample
rbp metrics
RBP Metrics

# Taxa

# Ephemera, Plecoptera and Trichoptera taxa

% Ephemera, Plecoptera and Trichoptera taxa

Family Biotic Index – based on tolerance values

% Dominant taxon (diversity measure)

Ratio of scrapers to filterers

% Shredders

Community Loss Index – comparison to reference site

Maximum Score = 48

Score is then expressed as a percentage of reference site score.


Common Macroinvertebrates

Mayflies (Ephemeroptera)






common macroinvertebrates
Common Macroinvertebrates

Stoneflies (Plecoptera)





common macroinvertebrates1
Common Macroinvertebrates

Caddisflies (Trichoptera)







common macroinvertebrates2
Common Macroinvertebrates

Damselflies and Dragonflies (Odonata)

True Bugs (Hemiptera)

Dobsonflies, Alderflies and Fishflies (Megaloptera)

Beetles (Coleoptera)

field day streamside biosurvey
Field Day: Streamside Biosurvey
  • Simple method for macroinvertebrate collection and analysis
  • Includes macroinvertebrate collection and habitat characterization procedures
  • Practice identifying macroinvertebrates with keys



  • USDA CSREES New England Water Quality Program
  • Dr. Art Gold
  • Dr. Patrick Logan
  • Maria Aliberti
  • Sara daSilva