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Biological monitoring is a fun, affordable, and effective method of stream monitoring. BMI, or Benthic (bottom-dwelling aquatic organisms) Macro (visible to the naked eye) Invertebrates (organisms without backbones) can tell us a lot about stream health. Benthic macro-invertebrates live on stream bottoms and include a wide variety of insects (during one or more stages of their life cycles) and other small aquatic organisms. They feed on algae, decomposing organic matter from local landscape sources such as leaf litter; sometimes eat each other. They themselves are the base of both aquatic and terrestrial food chains.
A healthy stream fosters a good diversity of aquatic invertebrate species which vary in their tolerance for impaired water quality. Therefore, one of the most effective ways to monitor surface water quality can be through biological assessment of BMI in area streams. BMI assessment complements chemical monitoring. Chemical monitoring produces snapshots of water quality on a particular day. Since BMI organisms live in streams for months and vary in their tolerance to pollution, the populations of organisms present in a stream indicate the overall health of a stream as aquatic habitat.Visit the Results page for details about the metrics and results from BMI assessment in local streams.
[accordion_item title=”What do biological monitoring volunteers do?” accordion=”accordion”]Volunteers from the synoptic sampling and the “red flag” monitoring programs participate in biological monitoring. Volunteers are trained by CSI staff in BMI sample collection, adhering to the Hudson Basin River Watch guidance document, using a kick net and collecting two replicate samples per location. BMI samples are preserved on site with isopropyl alcohol and processed in the CSI lab. Volunteers randomly select a portion of the sample to identify, then pick out, identify, and count each organism in that portion of the sample. CSI volunteers currently identify BMI samples to down to family level, or Tier III standards. Once organisms are counted and identified, several metrics are calculated to measure stream health.
How to collect a BMI sample:
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[accordion_item active=”yes” icon=”” title=”How often do biological monitoring volunteers monitor?” accordion=”accordion”]It varies, but CSI volunteers aim to collect BMI samples at least once per year in each of the major watersheds being monitored by the synoptic and “red flag” programs. Summer is the best time to collect BMI samples but spring and fall are also okay times to sample.[/accordion_item]
[accordion_item title=”Where is CSI doing biological monitoring?” accordion=”accordion”]CSI volunteers have collected and analyzed BMI samples in the following watersheds: Taughannock Creek, Trumansburg Creek, Enfield Creek (Cayuga Inlet), Six Mile Creek, Fall Creek, Paines Creek (in Cayuga County), Cayuta Creek, Wylie Brook, and Owego Creek.[/accordion_item]
[accordion_item title=”What can BMI tell us about water quality?” accordion=”accordion”]BMI communities are identified and counted and the proportions of different organisms can give us a good idea about water quality over the long-term. Various metrics are applied to determine if a stream is “impacted,” “non-impacted” or somewhere in between.
Visit the Results page for details about the metrics and results from BMI assessment in local streams. [/accordion_item]
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Once the benthic macroinvertebrates in the sample collected from the stream have been identified under the microscope to the level of order and family, they can be used to assess the health of the stream as a home for aquatic life. The assessment is based on which orders and families of insects are present and how well they tolerate pollution. There are five metrics used to evaluate stream health.
Total Family Richness
A count of the number of different families of aquatic insects in the sample. It is an indication of how diverse the macroinvertebrate community is in the stream. The more different families of insects there are (higher richness), the healthier the stream.
Macroinvertebrate families vary widely with respect to how well they tolerate pollution. Some are very sensitive to pollution while others are quite tolerant of polluted conditions. This metric is based on the pollution tolerance of families of benthic macroinvertebrates on a scale of 0 to 10.
A count of the total number of macroinvertebrate families of mayflies (Ephemeroptera), stoneflies (Plecoptera), and caddisflies (Trichoptera) found in a sub-sample. These three orders of macroinvertebrates are considered to be mostly clean-water organisms, and the presence of several families from these three orders is generally correlated with good water quality.
The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation has established what a typical, or model, community of benthic macroinvertebrates looks like in a healthy, non-impacted stream in New York. The Percent Model Affinity metric indicates how similar a BMI sample is to the model New York BMI community, as defined by the NYSDEC. It is based on the relative abundance of 7 major groups of benthic macroinvertebrates.
This metric combines Total Family Richness, Family Biotic Index, EPT Richness and Percent Model Affinity in a single metric called the Biological Assessment Profile (BAP). Each of these four metrics is converted to a value from 0 to 10 using a mathematical equation. The four converted values are averaged, and the average represents the overall water quality for the sampling location.
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Visit the BMI Results page to view and download results from Biological Monitoring events [/accordion_item]
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CSI offers classroom programs in stream monitoring of aquatic invertebrates for area high schools and community colleges. This is a rigorous program that gives students an opportunity to contribute to a scientific survey with established protocols through a certified lab while learning about stream ecosystems and the principles of environmental monitoring. After an initial classroom visit, including an educational component and training in monitoring techniques, students work closely with CSI staff to collect, preserve and identify aquatic insect assemblages from local streams. At the end of this project, students present their findings to others and retain their preserved and identified specimens for use in future stream monitoring activities.
Our BMI in the Classroom Program aims to work closely with schools to develop quality stream monitoring programs that empower students to take active roles as guardians of local water quality amidst changes and developments in local land use, including potential developments in natural gas extraction. We train students and teachers in the techniques of biological monitoring following Hudson Basin River Watch protocols for Benthic Macroinvertebrate sampling, provide guidance throughout the process and report findings on the CSI website in order to serve as another valuable resource in water quality monitoring efforts.
These documents provide an overview of CSI’s BMI in the Classroom program and associated costs:
If you are interested in volunteering with CSI’s biological monitoring program, would like the BMI in the Classroom to come to your school or club, or would like more information, contact Adrianna Hirtler at email@example.com
Looking for Volunteer Documents for BMI Sampling? Visit the Resources page to download everything you need for BMI monitoring.
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The Community Science Institute
Langmuir Lab Building/ Box 1044
95 Brown Rd.
Ithaca, NY 14850