Stream Monitoring Using Aquatic Insects

Macroinvertebrates are excellent indicators of environmental quality and have been used to measure river and stream health for decades.  Methods for sampling macroinvertebrates can vary widely, as does the taxonomic level to which they are identified.  MBI has developed a one-day Intermediate Macroinvertebrate course aimed at volunteers and citizen scientists who might have a basic understanding of macroinvertebrates, and would like to expand their knowledge.  The course is also appropriate for professionals and those who are seeking a Qualified Data Collector (QDC) Level 2 certification through the Ohio EPA.  Those who are pursuing a L2 certification will have the option to take the Level 2 (Family Level) test either Friday evening or at the end of the course, and will then need to apply to the Ohio EPA for L2 certification. 

Many people are now feeling motivated to participate in citizen science and volunteer stream monitoring. These individuals can make a difference by performing regular biological assessments of our local streams – not only to generate baseline data, but also to detect any changes in the quality of these streams. Since biological indicators are one of the best ways to detect changes in water quality, people who are able to identify macroinvertebrates to the family level can play an important part in monitoring long-term surface water quality trends in a watershed.

Several volunteer groups such as FLOW (Friends of the Lower Olentangy Watershed,) the Izaak Walton League of America (IWLA), and Ohio Dept. of Natural Resources’ Scenic Rivers program already identify some macroinvertebrates to the family level. However, the protocols of these groups recognize more pollution-sensitive organisms only to the order level, which is less specific. Individuals who are able to identify aquatic insects to the family level will provide the information needed by their organizations to generate more specific data, particularly for the sensitive EPT organisms (mayflies, stoneflies and caddisflies.)

Family-level data can be used to evaluate the effectiveness of pollution controls, to conduct initial screening of water quality conditions, and to promote public awareness and education about surface waters of the state. It is important to note that this course is not for regulatory purposes. The Intermediate Macroinvertebrates course (with optional Level 2 test) can be used as a segue to becoming a Level 3 Qualified Data Collector (QDC) for Benthic Macroinvertebrates. Only Level 3 data is used by OEPA for regulatory purposes. Click here for more info on the levels of data.

Friday Evening June 12: Lab Instruction (5 PM – 8 PM) OPTIONAL

Includes detailed instruction on macroinvertebrate Family Level identification using family reference material and dissecting microscopes. Family Level test for QDC Level 2 will be offered at this time or after the Saturday session.

Saturday Morning June 13: Classroom and Lab Instruction (9 AM – 12 PM)

MBI staff will assist participants in developing Family Level identification skills and will present the necessary sampling methods. We will discuss uses of Family Level data for initial screening of water quality conditions, tracking progress of a remediation site and long-term trend evaluation. The morning session includes an overview of the Fundamentals of Aquatic Ecology, Monitoring and Assessment and Design, the Ohio Water Quality Standards (WQS,) and the development of biocriteria. Also included is an overview of the Ohio Credible Data Program and instructions on obtaining QDC status.

Lunch: 12 – 12:45 PM (On Your Own)

Saturday Afternoon: Field Exploration (1 – 4 PM). Inclement Weather Date June 27

The afternoon session includes in-field instruction for Level 2 macroinvertebrate sample collection, primarily using the Ohio EPA qualitative sampling of natural substrates. Trainees will be instructed in macroinvertebrate sample collection and how to use family level data.

Recommended Background

No previous experience is necessary to take this course. Those wishing to become certified as QDC Level 2 for Benthic Macroinvertebrate Assessment – Sample Collection, Identification and Data Evaluation, may need other experience or general knowledge of stream and riverine physical forms and habitat features, ability to use taxonomic references to identify macroinvertebrate families, and experience with study plans. We will address these requirements in the presentations on Saturday morning.


This course will provide trainees with the skills necessary to perform macroinvertebrate identification to the family level, experience using Ohio EPA’s natural substrate methods to do sampling, and data presentation examples. Trainees may pursue, if they desire, Level 2 certification with Ohio EPA. Testing for the family level test for QDC Level 2 will be administered by MBI on both Friday night and Saturday after the field session.