Analytical approaches used in stream benthic macroinvertebrate biomonitoring programs of State agencies in the United States

Open-File Report 2013-1129
By:  and 



Biomonitoring programs based on benthic macroinvertebrates are well-established worldwide. Their value, however, depends on the appropriateness of the analytical techniques used. All United States State, benthic macroinvertebrate biomonitoring programs were surveyed regarding the purposes of their programs, quality-assurance and quality-control procedures used, habitat and water-chemistry data collected, treatment of macroinvertebrate data prior to analysis, statistical methods used, and data-storage considerations. State regulatory mandates (59 percent of programs), biotic index development (17 percent), and Federal requirements (15 percent) were the most frequently reported purposes of State programs, with the specific tasks of satisfying the requirements for 305b/303d reports (89 percent), establishment and monitoring of total maximum daily loads, and developing biocriteria being the purposes most often mentioned. Most states establish reference sites (81 percent), but classify them using State-specific methods. The most often used technique for determining the appropriateness of a reference site was Best Professional Judgment (86 percent of these states). Macroinvertebrate samples are almost always collected by using a D-frame net, and duplicate samples are collected from approximately 10 percent of sites for quality assurance and quality control purposes. Most programs have macroinvertebrate samples processed by contractors (53 percent) and have identifications confirmed by a second taxonomist (85 percent). All States collect habitat data, with most using the Rapid Bioassessment Protocol visual-assessment approach, which requires ~1 h/site. Dissolved oxygen, pH, and conductivity are measured in more than 90 percent of programs. Wide variation exists in which taxa are excluded from analyses and the level of taxonomic resolution used. Species traits, such as functional feeding groups, are commonly used (96 percent), as are tolerance values for organic pollution (87 percent). Less often used are tolerance values for metals (28 percent). Benthic data are infrequently modified (34 percent) prior to analysis. Fixed-count subsampling is used widely (83 percent), with the number of organisms sorted ranging from 100 to 600 specimens. Most programs include a step during sample processing to acquire rare taxa (79 percent). Programs calculate from 2 to more than100 different metrics (mean 20), and most formulate a multimetric index (87 percent). Eleven of the 112 metrics reported represent 50 percent of all metrics considered to be useful, and most of these are based on richness or percent composition. Biotic indices and tolerance metrics are most oftenused in the eastern U.S., and functional and habitat-type metrics are most often used in the western U.S. Sixty-nine percent of programs analyze their data in-house, typically performing correlations and regressions, and few use any form of data transformation (34 percent). Fifty-one percent of the programs use multivariate analyses, typically non-metric multi-dimensional scaling. All programs have electronic data storage. Most programs use the Integrated Taxonomic Information System (75 percent) for nomenclature and to update historical data (78 percent). State procedures represent a diversity of biomonitoring approaches which likely compromises comparability among programs. A national-state consensus is needed for: (1) developing methods for the identification of reference conditions and reference sites, (2) standardization in determining and reporting species richness, (3) testing and documenting both the theoretical and mechanistic basis of often-used metrics, (4) development of properly replicated point-source study designs, and (5) curation of benthic macroinvertebrate data, including reference and voucher collections, for successful evaluation of future environmental changes.
Publication type Report
Publication Subtype USGS Numbered Series
Title Analytical approaches used in stream benthic macroinvertebrate biomonitoring programs of State agencies in the United States
Series title Open-File Report
Series number 2013-1129
DOI 10.3133/ofr20131129
Year Published 2013
Language English
Publisher U.S. Geological Survey
Publisher location Reston, VA
Contributing office(s) National Research Program
Description vi, 50 p.
Online Only (Y/N) Y
Additional Online Files (Y/N) N
Google Analytic Metrics Metrics page
Additional publication details