Volunteers Monitor “Bugs” to Track River Restoration Progress

Okay, technically most are not true bugs, but benthic macroinvertebrates are an important part of a healthy river ecosystem and excellent indicators of habitat conditions.

Benthic macroinvertebrates (macros) are organisms that live out part of their life cycle on the bottom (benthic) of streams and rivers. They are an important part of the food chain and good indicators of overall river health, because some are more sensitive to changes in habitat quality than others. Since these organisms tend not to move very far during the aquatic portion of their lives, taking note of where sensitive taxa are (and are not) can give us information on how favorable water quality and other habitat conditions have been over a period of time. This is in contrast to taking individual measurements of water conditions during a single visit to a site.

Our volunteer powered macro program is a key part of our ongoing baseline monitoring of river health. This type of sampling can also be a powerful tool to measure how the river community responds to restoration efforts, including dam removal projects. By sampling macroinvertebrate communities both upstream and downstream for a period of time before and after dam removal, we can understand how the community responds and recovers following restoration of a free flowing river.

In 2016, we completed our second year of macro sampling around the South Middleton Dam which will be removed over the next couple of years. During the winter months, our team of volunteers has helped sort, count and analyze the preserved samples from the 2016 field work. This work provides important pre-removal data that will be compared to samples to be taken over the years following dam removal. Monitoring the results of restoration projects is critical because it helps us hone our understanding and improve our approach for future projects.

This is something we can’t do without the generous support of our volunteers! To find out how to get involved in this program and for information of when these events take place, contact the Programs Coordinator Ryan O’Donnell at rodonnell@ipswichriver.org.