Level 3 Bioassessment: Macroinvertebrates

Macroinvertebrates have been used to assess river and stream health for decades. Methods for sampling macroinvertebrates can vary widely between states, as does the level to which they are identified. As such the level of taxonomy is a critical aspect of any macroinvertebrate-based assessment method. MBI offers training in bioassessment using macroinvertebrates at two levels – a) family level; and b) the lowest practical level, which is to genus or species. We offer training for two Level 3 macroinvertebrate specialties: 1) Sample Collection and Data Analysis Only, and if qualified, 2) Sample Collection/Data Analysis/Identification.  For the latter, the applicant will need to be skilled in identifying macroinvertebrates to the lowest practical level at the time of the training.  Although those training for the Sample Collection and Data Analysis Only need to be skilled in identifying macroinvertebrates to the family level for the identification test, all applicants will need to be skilled in collecting the genera/species that are present at a field site using the Ohio EPA qualitative dip net method.

The focus of the Level 3 training is solely on the methods and biocriteria used by Ohio EPA and as such it fulfills the training required for those pursuing Level 3 Qualified Data Collector (QDC) status under the Ohio Credible Data Program. The training also includes instruction on using the QHEI, thus fulfilling the Habitat QDC requirements for Level 3.  Please note that Ohio EPA recently eliminated Level 3 as a stand-alone specialty, so obtaining Level 3 QHEI is now possible only via one of the biological assemblage specialties.

MBI and Ohio EPA work together to provide all that is necessary to obtain Level 3 QDC status under the Ohio Credible Data Program. MBI provides the facilities, equipment and materials, and conducts the training over 4 consecutive days. Ohio EPA conducts the laboratory identification testing and grading on the fifth day, and provides certification once all lab and field testing requirements have been completed and submitted by the applicant.  New in 2019 are revised requirements for conducting the sampling and data analysis as part of the testing requirement by Ohio EPA (see "Please Note" below).  These and other requirements will be covered in the four-day training class at MBI.

Please Note:  All participants will have additional Ohio EPA requirements of collecting 3 samples on their own during the field season. Those completing Sample Collection/Data Analysis Only will also be required to have those samples analyzed by a current Level 3 Benthic Macroinvertebrate Qualified Identifier, which may incur an additional cost. Those completing Sample Collection/Data Analysis/Identification will be analyzing the samples themselves for certification. 

Additional Note:  Participants will be afforded time in the late afternoon and evenings (Days 1 to 4) at MBI to examine macroinvertebrate taxa in preparation for a family-level test or the genus/species-level test administered by Ohio EPA (Day 5).  

Day One: Introduction to Ohio WQS, Biocriteria and QHEI – Classroom Instruction

We will provide a detailed overview of the Fundamentals of Aquatic Ecology, Monitoring and Assessment Design, the Ohio Water Quality Standards (WQS), and the development of numeric biocriteria and their usage.  We will also cover the origins and components of the QHEI as a habitat assessment tool, and will provide an overview of the Ohio Credible Data Program and instructions about obtaining QDC status.  

Day Two: Qualitative Habitat Evaluation Index (QHEI) – Field Training

This is the field training day for QHEI, which includes a Level 2 test for the QHEI at the site.     

Day Three: Level 3 Field Training

This includes in-field instruction for Level 3 macroinvertebrate sample collection, including setting and retrieving artificial substrates and collecting qualitative samples. All participants will be instructed in Level 3 macroinvertebrate sample collection, and participants will prepare an artificial substrate sample for processing as part of the required testing.  Participants pursuing Sample Collection/Data Analysis/Identification will also be instructed in sample identification procedures. 

Day Four: Data Analysis & Use Designation Determination – Classroom Instruction

Day Four is classroom instruction for managing and analyzing macroinvertebrate data including calculating the indices that comprise the Ohio biocriteria, i.e. the ICI (Invertebrate Community Index). Case studies will cover the analysis of data, determining the appropriate aquatic life use designation, assessing use attainment status, and an introduction to stressor identification. We will also provide instruction on how to develop a Project Study Plan (PSP) for submittal to Ohio EPA as a prerequisite to qualifying survey data as Level 3.  

This concludes the Level 3 training at and by MBI.  

Post-Training Testing and Grading by Ohio EPA

Ohio EPA has assumed all responsibility for Level 3 testing and grading. This test covers macroinvertebrate identification of 20 specimens to family level or 25 specimens to genus or species level, consistent with Level 3 identification specifications. MBI will provide contact information to all trainees who will then need to arrange for the testing on their own.

Recommended Background

Participants should be proficient in the identification of Ohio macroinvertebrate taxa to family level for Level 3 Sample Collection/Data Analysis Only, and to genus/species level for participants pursuing Level 3 Sample Collection/Data Analysis/ Identification. All Level 3 participants should be familiar with macroinvertebrate sampling techniques as outlined in the Ohio EPA methods manual for collection of QDC L3 data. This Ohio EPA manual can be found by clicking here, and will also be provided as part of the training materials.


This course will provide participants with the information needed to complete the testing requirements for one of the two Level 3 Macroinvertebrate certifications. Ohio EPA conducts the testing and grading for all Level 3 candidates. Participants who receive a passing grade can apply to Ohio EPA for QDC status.   For the latest Ohio Credible Data Program requirements, visit the Ohio EPA website by clicking here.