What Do Macroinvertebrates Have to Do With Water Quality?

This blog post was written by Jeff Rones as part of the Spring 2018 UGA Urban Ecology class.

How are macroinvertebrates and water quality related? The answer starts with what is known as a “water quality monitoring program”. This type of program’s function is in the name itself: it is designed to monitor the quality of our nation’s water. Water quality monitoring programs can be carried out by various groups, including state, federal, and local agencies as well as universities and dischargers. Water quality data is “used to characterize waters, identify trends over time, identify emerging problems, determine whether pollution control programs are working, help direct pollution control efforts to where they are most needed, and respond to emergencies such as floods and spills” (epa.gov). What do these types of programs have to do with the health of your local watershed? The health of our waters has major implications on wildlife as well as the water we use for drinking, bathing, and just about anything else.

Macroinvertebrates are organisms that lack a spine and are big enough to be seen with the naked eye. Common types of macroinvertebrates that one might find in their water systems are mayflies, dragonflies, crayfish, snails, beetles and much more. Now, what do macroinvertebrates have to do with water quality monitoring programs? The answer lies in the types of environments that these aquatic macroinvertebrates can tolerate. Aquatic ecosystems can vary according to many biological and chemical factors. These factors can act as limitations for certain macroinvertebrates. Factors include the amount of oxygen in the water, water temperature, sediment content, nutrients, as well as toxic metals and chemical levels. Generally, tolerance levels of macroinvertebrates scale from zero to ten, zero being no tolerance and ten being high tolerance to pollution and low amounts of oxygen in the water. Macroinvertebrates that have low tolerance for these factors can serve as indicators because if they have lower survival rates, this can indicate high levels of pollution or low levels of dissolved oxygen in their habitat. Some habitat requirements for low tolerance macroinvertebrates are clear, cold water, high dissolved oxygen content, low nutrient levels, well shaded, and relatively undisturbed (wpwa.org).

Major Benthic Macroinvertebrates. Photo Credit: Water Quality Project via cmwaterqualityproject.weebly.com

Two programs that incorporate the use of macroinvertebrates in testing water quality are Georgia Adopt-A-Stream and the Chattahoochee RiverKeeper. Georgia Adopt-A-Stream is a water quality monitoring program housed under the Water Protection Branch of the Georgia Environmental Protection Division. Georgia Adopt-A-Stream “encourages individuals and communities to monitor and/or improve sections of streams, wetlands, lakes or estuaries through several levels of involvement” (adoptastream.ga.gov). Through interactive workshops, citizens are greatly encouraged to participate in monitoring Georgia’s water systems. One particular workshop is the Macroinvertebrate Monitoring Workshop for Quality Assurance. In this workshop, volunteers can sample the biological factors of streams. This workshop focuses “on collection techniques for either rocky or muddy bottom streams and macroinvertebrate identification” (adoptastream.ga.gov). Volunteers can even show off their stream testing skills at the end of this 5-hour session. Additionally, “volunteers who identify the macroinvertebrates with 90% accuracy and pass the written test with a score of 80% or better will be considered a QA/QC volunteer for one year” (adoptastream.ga.gov).

Georgia Adopt-A-Stream. Photo Credit: epd.georgia.gov

The Chattahoochee RiverKeeper is a non-profit organization whose mission is “preserving the Chattahoochee River, its lakes and tributaries for the people, fish and wildlife that depend upon them” (chattahoochee.org). This organization tests for macroinvertebrates and looks for trends in a variety of watershed areas. If you are looking to get your hands dirty and play an active role in your community river, this organization provides many opportunities to monitor the Chattahoochee River. They host a number of fun events, including their annual “Sweep the Hooch” event where community volunteers remove visible trash in areas of the Chattahoochee watershed. Chattahoochee RiverKeeper provides water monitoring programs that serve to maintain the integrity of the river’s many recreational uses, such as swimming, fishing and boating. Since 2008, CRK has measured dissolved oxygen levels in fifteen locations of the river, a factor that is known to be of great importance to aquatic macroinvertebrates. CRK works to make sure that river water volumes are enough to dilute the industrial and wastewater that is inevitably discharged into the Chattahoochee River (chattahoochee.org).

Chattahoochee RiverKeeper. Photo credit: Chattahoochee.org

Watersheds reveal how elements that seem unrelated, like water quality and macroinvertebrates, actually have direct impacts on each other. By monitoring our water quality via interacting with aquatic macroinvertebrates, we can begin to notice and explore their diversity. In addition to the organizations listed above, many other organizations help to monitor Georgia water quality as well as offer community opportunities. These include the Waterkeeper Alliance and The Georgia Water Coalition, both Georgia watershed-based organizations. Overall, I hope this blog has provided insight on the interesting environmental connections that can be made regarding clean water. There are so many ways to get involved in the effort to maintain a healthy watershed for all.



Dissolved Oxygen Monitoring. Retrieved March 28, 2018, from https://chattahoochee.org/our-work/water-monitoring/dissolved-oxygen-monitoring/

Home. Retrieved March 28, 2018, from https://www.gawater.org/

Water Topics. (2018, March 05). Retrieved March 28, 2018, from https://www.epa.gov/environmental-topics/water-topics

Water Monitoring. Retrieved March 28, 2018, from http://www.wpwa.org/

Workshop Descriptions. Retrieved March 28, 2018, from https://adoptastream.georgia.gov/workshop-descriptions

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