Aquatic Macroinvertebrate Monitoring

Two people measuring a section of a boulder strewn stream with tape.
Measuring an aquatic macroinvertebrate transect along Hermit Creek in Grand Canyon National Park.


SCPN Monitoring Sites Webmap (NPS staff only)

Aquatic macroinvertebrates are small organisms that lack a vertebral column/backbone and live all or part of their lives in water. They are found in freshwater ecosystems around the world and include insect larvae, worms, and snails. They play a key role in the cycling of nutrients in aquatic systems because they perform multiple roles in the ecosystem:

  • as primary consumers that process live organic material (e.g. algae, aquatic vegetation)
  • as detritivores that feed on and break down dead organic material (e.g. leaves, woody debris)
  • as predators that feed on other invertebrates
  • as prey for fish, amphibians, reptiles, aquatic birds and mammals

Aquatic and riparian habitats are among the most threatened ecosystems worldwide. Pollution, development, logging, grazing, water withdrawal, and climate change are just some of the threats they face. Because aquatic macroinvertebrates are found in all aquatic ecosystems, and because they are sensitive to environmental change, they are important indicators of aquatic ecosystem health. We monitor aquatic macroinvertebrates to detect changes in aquatic systems due to chemical, physical, and biological disturbances. In addition, long-term monitoring of aquatic macroinvertebrates complements water quality monitoring. Together, they provide a more comprehensive evaluation of aquatic system health.

Monitoring Objectives

Focusing on species abundance and diversity, our monitoring objectives are to

  1. determine the status and trends in the composition and abundance of aquatic macroinvertebrate assemblages
  2. determine the distribution and condition of aquatic macroinvertebrate habitats
Mayfly nymph on a wet rock held in a hand over stream water.
Mayfly nymph on a rock in the Mancos River in Mesa Verde National Park.


Vital Signs and Metrics

Southern Colorado Plateau Network (SCPN) parks have identified two vital signs and associated metrics for this project:

1. Aquatic macroinvertebrates:

  • Species composition
  • Abundance

2. Habitat condition

  • Water depth

  • Water velocity
  • Substrate size
  • Canopy closure

Monitored in These Parks and Streams

Monitoring Project Status

Aquatic macroinvertebrate populations are monitored each year at sites on selected streams in four SCPN parks. Samples are sent to the Bureau of Land Management's National Aquatic Monitoring Center's Bug Lab at Utah State University for analysis.

Aquatic macroinvertebrate monitoring in SCPN parks began in 2007. The Aquatic Macroinvertebrate Monitoring Protocol for the Southern Colorado Plateau Network was published in September 2011.

Project Contact

Stacy Stumpf, Aquatic Ecologist

Reports and Publications

Brasher AM and Others. 2011. Aquatic Macroinvertebrate Monitoring Protocol for the Southern Colorado Plateau Network. Natural Resource Report. NPS/SCPN/NRR—2011/460. National Park Service; U.S. Geological Survey. Fort Collins, Colorado.

Monitoring Reports

Periodically, we publish reports on each vital sign that describe what we are learning in the field. These monitoring reports are more in-depth than resource briefs and include data analysis and a discussion of our findings. Our monitoring reports provide the most recent published findings from our field work.

Aquatic Macroinvertebrate data summary monitoring reports from 2007 - 2015 are being reviewed and are unavailable for download. Please contact Stacy Stumpf if you have questions about SCPN aquatic macroinvertebrate data.

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    Last updated: October 21, 2022