Bodo Creek An Environmental Impact Assessmentand biomonitoring expert back from a sampling expedition in Bodo Creek an oil spill impacted site.
Bodo Creek, Nigeria. An environmental impact assessment and biomonitoring scientist returning from a sampling expedition at an oil spill site on Bodo Creek in the Niger River Delta.

Aquatic biomonitoring is the science of inferring the ecological condition of rivers, lakes, streams, and wetlands by examining the organisms (fish, invertebrates, insects, plants, and algae) that live there. While aquatic biomonitoring is the most common form of biomonitoring, any ecosystem can be studied in this manner.


Shasta dam construction, California, U.S.A. Construction and human development can affect many aspects of aquatic ecosystems.
Champagne, France. Farming and agriculture can greatly affect nearby water sources, both fresh and marine.

Aquatic biomonitoring is an important tool for assessing aquatic life forms and their habitats. It can reveal the overall health and status of the ecosystem, detect environmental trends and the impacts of different stressors, and can be used to evaluate the effect that various human activities have on the overall health of aquatic environments.[1][2] Water pollution and general stresses to aquatic life have a major impact on the environment. The main sources of pollution to oceans, rivers, and lakes are human caused events or activities, such as sewage, oil spills, surface runoff, littering, ocean mining, and nuclear waste.

Monitoring aquatic life can also be beneficial in monitoring and understanding adjacent land ecosystems. Rapid changes to an environment, like, pollution, can alter ecosystems and community assemblages, and endanger species that live in or close to water. Many aquatic species serve as food sources for terrestrial species, which are therefore impacted by the size and health of aquatic populations.

Indicator organisms

Scotland, UK. Caddis fly spp. larvae are a common indicator organism in determining a fresh waterbody's health.
A well developed wood frog tadpole. Amphibians at all stages of life are significant indicator organisms.

Aquatic invertebrates, most popularly the larvae of the caddis fly sp., are responsive to climate change, low levels of pollution and temperature change.[3][4] As a result, they have the longest history of use in biomonitoring programs.[5] Additionally, macroscopic species: frogs, fish, and some plant species, as well as, many forms of microscopic life, like bacteria and protozoa are used as indicator organisms in a variety of applications, storm water run-off among them.[6]

Many species of Macroalgae (including Cyanobacteria, though not technically a true algae[7]) are also used in biomonitoring for both aquatic and marine environments, as their short lifespan makes them very reactive to changes.[8][9]

Common methods

A biomonitoring assessment requires a baseline dataset which, ideally, defines the environment in its natural or default state.[10] This is then used for comparison against any subsequent measurements, in order to assess potential alterations or trends.

In some cases, these datasets are used to create standardised tools for assessing water quality via biomonitoring data, such as the Specific Pollution Index (SPI) and South African Diatom Index (SADI).[11]

Methods employed in aquatic biomonitoring

Common tools of ecological and biological assessments

Variables considered

Water quality

Water quality is graded both on appearance, for example: clear, cloudy, full of algae, and chemistry.[16] Determining the specific levels of enzymes, bacteria, metals, and minerals found in water is extremely important. Some contaminants, such as metals and certain organic wastes, can be lethal to individual creatures and could thereby ultimately lead to extinction of certain species.[12] This could affect both aquatic and land ecosystems and cause disruption in other biomes and ecosystems.

Water temperature

Water body temperature is one of the most ubiquitous variables collected in aquatic biomonitoring. Temperatures at the water surface, through the water column, and in the lowest levels of the water body (benthic zone) can all provide insight into different aspects of an aquatic ecosystem. Water temperature is directly affected by climate change and can have negative affects on many aquatic species, such as salmon.[17][18] Salmon spawning is temperature dependant: there is a heat accumulation threshold which must be reached before hatching can occur. Post-hatching, salmon live in water within a critical range in temperature, with exposure to temperatures outside of this being potentially lethal.[19] This sensitivity makes them useful indicators of changes in water temperature, hence their use in climate change studies. Similarly, Daphnia populations have been evidenced as being negatively affected by climate change, as earlier springs have caused hatching periods to de-couple from the peak window of food availability.[20]

Community make-up

Species community assemblages and changes therein can help researchers to infer changes in the health of an ecosystem. In typical unpolluted temperate streams of Europe and North America, certain insect taxa predominate. Mayflies (Ephemeroptera), caddisflies (Trichoptera), and stoneflies (Plecoptera) are the most common insects in these undisturbed streams. In contrast, in rivers disturbed by urbanization, agriculture, forestry, and other perturbations, flies (Diptera), and especially midges (family Chironomidae) predominate.

Local geology

Surface water can be affected by local geology, as minerals leached from sub-surface rocks can enter surface water bodies and influence water chemistry. Examples of this are the Werii River (Tigray, Ethiopia), where elevated concentrations of heavy metals have been linked to the underlying slate, and drinking wells in Indigenous communities near Anchorage, Alaska, where high concentrations of arsenic have been linked to the underlying McHugh Complex rock formation.[21]


See also


  1. ^ Vandewalle1 de Belo2 Berg3, M.1 F.2 M.P.3 (September 2010). "Functional traits as indicators of biodiversity response to land use changes across ecosystems and Organisms" (PDF). Biodivers Conserv. 19 (10): 2921–2947. doi:10.1007/s10531-010-9798-9. S2CID 9567019.((cite journal)): CS1 maint: numeric names: authors list (link)
  2. ^ "Why Biological Monitoring?". Monitoring and Assessment. Augusta, ME: Maine Department of Environmental Protection. Retrieved 2020-03-27.
  3. ^ Justin E. Lawrence; Kevin B. Lunde; Raphael D. Mazor; Leah A. Bêche; Eric P. McElravy; Vincent H. Resh. "Long-Term Macroinvertebrate Responses to Climate Change: Implications for Biological Assessment in Mediterranean-Climate Streams". Journal of the North American Benthological Society.
  4. ^ "Vulnerability of stream biota to climate change in mediterraneanclimates: a synthesis of ecological responses and conservation challenges". Hydrobiologia. doi:10.1007/s10750-012-1244-4. hdl:2445/48186. S2CID 17658477.
  5. ^ Barbour1 Gerritsen2 Snyder3 Stribling4, M.T.1 J.2 B.D3 J.B4 (1999). "Rapid Bioassessment Protocols for Use in Streams and Wadeable Rivers: Periphyton, Benthic Macroinvertebrates and Fish". U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA); Office of Water.((cite journal)): CS1 maint: numeric names: authors list (link)
  6. ^ Jeng1 England2 Bradford3, Hueiwang C.1 Andrew J.2 Henry B.3 (2005). "Indicator Organisms Associated with Stormwater Suspended Particles and Estuarine Sediment". Journal of Environmental Science and Health. 40 (4): 779–791. Bibcode:2005JESHA..40..779J. doi:10.1081/ESE-200048264. PMID 15792299. S2CID 217506461.((cite journal)): CS1 maint: numeric names: authors list (link)
  7. ^ Stanier, R Y; Kunisawa, R; Mandel, M; Cohen-Bazire, G (June 1971). "Purification and properties of unicellular blue-green algae (order Chroococcales)". Bacteriological Reviews. 35 (2): 171–205. doi:10.1128/br.35.2.171-205.1971. ISSN 0005-3678. PMC 378380. PMID 4998365.
  8. ^ "Why Biological Monitoring? -- Monitoring and Assessment, Bureau of Land and Water Quality, Maine Department of Environmental Protection". Retrieved 2023-02-24.
  9. ^ Phillips, David J.H. (December 1979). "The Use of Biological Indicator Organisms to Monitor Trace Metal Pollution in Marine and Estuarine Environments--A Review". Environmental Pollution. 20 (4): 281–317. doi:10.1016/0013-9327(77)90047-7.
  10. ^ Burrows, Justin M.; Clawson, Chelsea M. (September 2020). Baseline Aquatic Biomonitoring for the Anarraaq and Aktigiruq Prospects near the Red Dog Mine, 2019 (PDF) (Report). Fairbanks, AK: Alaska Department of Fish and Game. Technical Report No. 20-06.
  11. ^ Harding, W. R. (2011). The South African Diatom Index (SADI) : a preliminary index for indicating water quality in rivers and streams in southern Africa : report to the Water Research Commission. J. C. Taylor, South Africa. Water Research Commission. [Gezina]: Water Research Commission. ISBN 978-1-4312-0172-3. OCLC 802315993.
  12. ^ a b Bartram, Jamie; Ballance, Richard, eds. (1996). Water Quality Monitoring: A Practical Guide to the Design and Implementation of Freshwater Quality Studies and Monitoring Programmes. CRC Press. ISBN 978-0419217305.
  13. ^ Karr, James R. (1981). "Assessment of Biotic Integrity Using Fish Communities". Fisheries. American Fisheries Society. 6 (6): 21–27. doi:10.1577/1548-8446(1981)006<0021:AOBIUF>2.0.CO;2.
  14. ^ Burger, Joanna; Snodgrass, Joel (June 2001). "Metal Levels in Southern Leopard Frogs from the Savannah River Site: Location and Body Compartment Effects". Environmental Research. Elsevier. 86 (2): 157–166. Bibcode:2001ER.....86..157B. doi:10.1006/enrs.2001.4245. PMID 11437462.
  15. ^ "MolluScan Eye". Environnements et Paléoenvironnements Océaniques et Continentaux.
  16. ^ "Biomonitoring". Water Quality Monitoring & Assessment. Troy, NY: New York State Department of Environmental Conservation. Retrieved 2021-03-16.
  17. ^ Van Vliet, Michelle T.H.; Wietse, H.P. Franssen; Yearsley, John R.; Ludwig, Fulco; Haddeland, Ingjerd; Letenmaier, Dennis P.; Kabat, Pavel (April 2013). "Global river discharge and water temperature under climate change". Global Climate Change. Elsevier. 23 (2): 450–464. doi:10.1016/j.gloenvcha.2012.11.002.
  18. ^ Jonsson, B.; Jonsson, N. (January 2010). "A review of the likely effects of climate change on anadromous Atlantic salmon Salmo salar and brown trout Salmo trutta, with particular reference to water temperature and flow". Journal of Fish Biology. The Fisheries Society of the British Isles. 75 (10): 2381–2447. doi:10.1111/j.1095-8649.2009.02380.x. PMID 20738500.
  19. ^ Jonsson, B.; Jonsson, N. (December 2009). "A review of the likely effects of climate change on anadromous Atlantic salmon Salmo salar and brown trout Salmo trutta, with particular reference to water temperature and flow". Journal of Fish Biology. 75 (10): 2381–2447. doi:10.1111/j.1095-8649.2009.02380.x. PMID 20738500.
  20. ^ Winder, Monika; Schindler, Daniel E. (August 2004). "Climate Change Uncouples Trophic Interactions in an Aquatic Ecosystem". Ecology. 85 (8): 2100–2106. doi:10.1890/04-0151. ISSN 0012-9658.
  21. ^ Haftu, Zelealem; Estifanos, Samuel (2020-05-12). "Investigation of physico-chemical Characteristics and Heavy Metals Concentration Implying to the Effect of Local Geology on Surface Water Quality of Werii Catchment, Tigray, Ethiopia". EQA - International Journal of Environmental Quality. 40: 11–18. doi:10.6092/issn.2281-4485/10602. ISSN 2281-4485.
  22. ^ CABIN laboratory methods : processing, taxonomy, and quality control of benthic macroinvertebrate samples. Canada. Environment and Climate Change Canada. Gatineau, QC. 2020. ISBN 978-0-660-37046-0. OCLC 1231735778.((cite book)): CS1 maint: location missing publisher (link) CS1 maint: others (link)
  23. ^ Landres, Peter B.; Verner, Jared; Thomas, Jack Ward (December 1988). "Ecological Uses of Vertebrate Indicator Species: A Critique". Conservation Biology. 2 (4): 316–328. doi:10.1111/j.1523-1739.1988.tb00195.x. ISSN 0888-8892.
  24. ^ Kerby, Jacob L.; Richards-Hrdlicka, Kathryn L.; Storfer, Andrew; Skelly, David K. (January 2010). "An examination of amphibian sensitivity to environmental contaminants: are amphibians poor canaries?". Ecology Letters. 13 (1): 60–67. doi:10.1111/j.1461-0248.2009.01399.x. PMID 19845728.