Aquatic Macroinvertebrates - Monitoring

Collecting aquatic macroinvertebrate samples in Grand Canyon National Park
Collecting aquatic macroinvertebrate samples in Grand Canyon National Park


The utility of monitoring aquatic macroinvertebrates to investigate ecosystem health has long been recognized by ecologists who have used this technique to (1) assess the results of management actions implemented in a system (e.g. exotic species removal), (2) determine the effects of a pollutant on the system, and (3) monitor water quality compliance issues (Rosenberg and Resh 1993).

These organisms are the best indicators of freshwater ecosystem health for a number of reasons:

  • They can exhibit a wide range of responses to changes in environmental conditions and stress because of the large variety of organisms that make up this group.
  • They serve as excellent indicators of long and short-term change. Many species have long-lived life cycle stages that allow them to integrate effects of land and water use in the watershed, making them sensitive to changes in the physical and chemical environment (Scott et al. 2006; Maretet al. 2001).
  • When combined with physical and chemical water assessment, aquatic macroinvertebrate monitoring provides a comprehensive evaluation of watershed condition (Karr 1991).
Inventory & Monitoring Network and Park Unit with Ongoing or Planned Macroinvertebrate Sampling
Southern Plains Network
Chickasaw National Recreation Area
Lyndon B. Johnson National Historical Park
Pecos National Historical Park
Sonoran Desert Network
Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument
Montezuma Castle National Monument
Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument
Saguaro National Park
Tumacacori National Historical Park
Tuzigoot National Monument
Southern Colorado Plateau Network
Bandelier National Monument
Canyon de Chelly National Monument
Glen Canyon National Recreation Area
Grand Canyon National Park
Mesa Verde National Park
Chihuahuan Desert Network
Amistad National Recreation Area
Big Bend National Park
Carlsbad Caverns National Park
Guadalupe Mountains National Park

Macroinvertebrate monitoring is planned or underway in all of the National Park Service Inventory and Monitoring networks of the Southwest. The overall monitoring objectives include tracking changes in the composition and abundance of aquatic macroinvertebrate assemblages and in habitat condition.

We will also investigate relationships between aquatic macroinvertebrate indices and other network vital signs, such as fish communities, water quality and quantity, and stream channel morphology.

With monitoring data, park resource managers will be able to make more informed management decisions regarding aquatic resources within their parks. Network monitoring results are available online from the NPS Data Store.

Processing a sample at Gila Cliff Dwellings NM (left); A macroinvertebrate sample (right).
Processing a sample at Gila Cliff Dwellings NM (left); A macroinvertebrate sample (right).



For more information...

Learn about long-term monitoring of aquatic macroinvertebrates in

Chihuahan Desert Network parks:

Southern Colorado Plateau Network parks:

Sonoran Desert Network parks:


Prepared by Stacy Stumpf, Patty Valentine-Darby, and Evan Gwilliam, NPS Inventory and Monitoring Program, 2009.

Last updated: May 5, 2015