Monitoring Aquatic Macroinvertebrates on the Southern Colorado Plateau

Aquatic macroinvertebrates, such as insect larvae, snails, and worms, play a vital role in stream ecosystems, both as a food source and as consumers of algae and other organic matter.

Close-up of a mayfly on a rust-colored rock
Mayfly on stone


Because macroinvertebrates are sensitive to environmental change, monitoring them can help to detect chemical, physical, and biological impacts to aquatic ecosystems. Long-term macroinvertebrate monitoring will complement water quality assessment methods, thus providing a more complete evaluation of overall stream health. Because the four states represented within Southern Colorado Plateau Network (SCPN) parks (AZ, CO, NM, UT), as well as the Navajo Nation, all include macroinvertebrates as part of their water quality monitoring programs, SCPN monitoring efforts will also contribute to a broader regional understanding of aquatic conditions.

Long-term Monitoring

Two monitoring field crew collecting macroinvertebrates with a net
Sampling aquatic macroinvertebrates in Hermit Creek of Grand Canyon National Park.


Management Applications

Human-caused stream alterations can lead to structural and functional changes to aquatic ecosystems. Land uses can pollute streams or otherwise affect the condition of aquatic resources, and disturbance events may contribute to accelerated erosion and increases in suspended and bedload sediment. Persistent changes in climate can disrupt natural flood regimes and alter natural temperature cycles, affecting the composition, structure, and functioning of aquatic ecosystems. Climate-related changes to aquatic ecosystems may be amplified by interactions with existing anthropogenic stressors, such as the spread of invasive species like crayfish.

The first few years of monitoring data will be used to document baseline conditions in SCPN streams. Over the long term, macroinvertebrate data will be used to (1) examine responses of aquatic life to changing water quality or physical habitat conditions, (2) follow the recovery of aquatic macroinvertebrate assemblages after disturbance events, such as catastrophic fires and floods, and (3) document changes in macroinvertebrate community structure in response to climate change.

Graph showing aquatic macroinvertebrate species richness at monitoring sites in the four parks
Species richness of aquatic macroinvertebrates for qualitative multihabitat samples of SCPN monitoring sites (2010 data).

For More Information

Reports & Publications


Stacy Stumpf,


Prepared by the Southern Colorado Plateau Network Inventory and Monitoring Program, 2012.

Last updated: December 23, 2015