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The Study of Water Invertebrates in a Local River and Assessment of Its Environmental State

© Alexsander S. Bogolyubov, Daria N. Zasko, Russia, 1999

© Michael J. Brody, USA, 2003

The study of water invertebrates in a local river and assessment of its environmental stateThis manual is devoted to the study of macrozoobenthos - invertebrates that inhabit the bottom of bodies of water. The main idea of this lesson is to study these invertebrates in a local small river or stream and to determine water quality based on species composition and representation of various collected organisms.

This field study has instructional video featuring real students conducting the ecological field techniques in nature. Each video illustrates the primary instructional outcomes and the major steps in accomplishing the task including reporting the results.


Zoobenthos (from bentos Ц depth) all the invertebrates that inhabit the bottom of bodies of water (or the benthic zone), aquatic vegetation (or phytal) as well as other substrates including those associated with hydroengineering facilities.

The largest benthic specimens, with a body size of more than 2 mm, are called macrozoobenthos. The following make up the category Macrozoobenthos: worms (planaria, oligochaetae, leeches, round worms), mollusks (gastropoda and bivalves), Crustacea class (amphipods, isopods, decapods, etc), arachnids, and insects (midges, geleides, May-flies, stoneflies, caddis-flies, dragon flies and so on), etc.

Many of these living organisms also dwell in the water column (pelagic zone); they include insects, Crustacea class (mysidacea, pallacea and others), spiders, etc.

The lives of many other bottom organisms can also be connected with the water surface, i.e. surface film (neistalic zone).

According to its functions, macrozoobenthos represents an important part of the heterotrophic component of water systems. Macrozoobenthic organisms are particularly involved in the processes of converting outside energy sources (plant and detritus material) into available energy within the system.

Changes in the species structure of biocoenosis correlating with level of water pollution have attracted hydrobiologistsТ attention for a long time. The high stenobionicty (demands for certain environmental conditions) of a number of species, formation of complex multi-component systems, attachment to certain types of substrates, relative low motility (mobility) (in comparison with fast-spreading pollutants) allow the use of zoobenthic organisms as indicators for determining human (anthropogeneous) impact on aqueous ecosystems.

Different methods of water quality assessment, numerous articles and publications as well as the data of long-term observations within the hydrological network of environmental monitoring prove the importance of benthos for determining characteristics of water quality. Because macrozoobenthos specimens are relatively large, their detection and determination by young ecologists (environmentalists) is made easier.

Procedure for studying macrozoobenthos

General information

The study of macrozoobenthos and fulfillment of this educational task can best be carried out at a nearby small river or stream with a slow current.

An ideal location for studying zoobenthos is a river valley, which is not too wide (5-20 meters wide) and not too deep (up to 1.5 meters deep), or a relatively flat section of a mountain river with a slow flow and well-developed high aqueous vegetation. A fast mountain river with a coarse-silted bottom and absence of high aqueous vegetation, or reservoirs with stagnant water are less suitable for this research.

In order to make sample collection easier it is recommended to choose a shallow river section to collect samples at different places by walking in the river (not from a boat or a bridge). Periods of sample collections are limited by the seasonal life cycles of benthic organisms. These life cycles occur year round and are not limited to the period from July to November.

Sample collection

Selection of sites for sampling in the river is the starting point of all hydrobiological studies.

For the purposes of this task, an average river section should be chosen. The best area will have favorable oxygen conditions, such as shade and high water vegetation. It is not advisable to collect samples at where ground water discharges, at stagnant sections, or other unfavorable river sites. These areas will not give a true indication of the entire river system.

Samples collected from the abyssal part of a river are also not suitable, because they may not characterize water quality but rather, the pollution of bottom sedimentation, which can greatly differ in chemical composition from the water in the river as whole.

For these studies, mountain and piedmont rivers with rocky-pebbled bottoms are best. If these conditions are unattainable, (or for river valleys) samples should be collected from...


This was only the first page from the manual and its full version you can see in the

Ecological Field Studies 4CD Set:

It is possible to purchase the complete set of 40 seasonal Ecological Field Study Materials (video in mpg + manuals in pdf formats) in an attractive 4 compact disk set. These compact disks are compatible with Mac and PC computers. The teacher background information and manuals can be printed out for easy reference. The videos are suitable for individual student or whole class instruction. To purchase the complete 4CD set write to in a free form.

Ecological Field Studies 4CD Set

Some of these manuals you can also purchase in the form of applications for Android devices on Google Play.

Ecological Field Studies Demo Disk:

We also have a free and interesting demonstration disk that explains our ecological field studies approach. The demo disk has short excerpts from all the seasonal field study videos as well as sample text from all the teacher manuals. The disk has an entertaining automatic walk through which describes the field study approach and explains how field studies meet education standards.

You can also download the Demo Disc from This is a virtual hybrid (for PC and Mac computers) CD-ROM image (one 563 Mb file "CD_Demo.iso"). You can write this image to the CD and use it in your computer in ordinary way. You also can use emulator software of virtual CD-ROM drive to play the disk directly from your hard disk.

Ecological Field Studies Demo Disk


Other Ecological Field Studies Instructive Manuals:

Autumn Season

  1. Orienteering in the Forest
  2. Procedure of the Geological Exposure Description
  3. Plotting a Profile of a River Valley Slope
  4. Simple Procedure of Soil Description
  5. Assessment of the Vital State of a Forest Based on Pine-tree Analysis
  6. Study of Species Composition and Number of Fungi
  7. Study of Species Composition and Census of Birds Using the Line Transect-counting Method
  8. Integrated Study Based on Landscape Profile
  9. Complex Environmental Assessment of Human Impact on an Area
  10. Assessment of Air Pollution by Lichen Indication Method

Winter Season

  1. Making a Campfire
  2. Simple УEyeФ Survey of the Field Study Site
  3. Study of Growth Dynamics of Trees Based on Annual Rings
  4. Mapping Forest Vegetation
  5. Green Plants Under Snow
  6. Methods of Observation of a Chickadee Flock's Territorial Behavior
  7. Procedure of Winter Mammals Route Census by Footprints
  8. Study of Mammal Ecology According to Their Tracks
  9. Physical and Chemical Properties of Natural Waters
  10. Study of Snow Cover Profile

Spring Season

  1. Let's Help Birds!
  2. Study of the Ecology of Early Flowering Plants
  3. Phenology of Plant Florescence
  4. Assessment of the Vital State of Coniferous Underbrush
  5. Study of Forest Invertebrates (Part I: Forest Litter, Wood)
  6. Studies of Species Composition and Abundance of Amphibians
  7. Studying Minerals and Rocks in Your Area
  8. Studies of the Day Activity of Singing Birds
  9. Studies of Bird Populations Size by Different Methods
  10. Study of Fauna of Spring Temporary Water Bodies

Summer Season

  1. Making a Herbarium
  2. The Study of Plants in Your Local Environment
  3. Study of the Vertical Structure of a Forest
  4. Study of Forest Invertebrates (Part 2: Grass Layer, Tree Crowns and Air)
  5. Study of BirdsТ Nesting Life
  6. Complex Comparative Description of Small Rivers and Streams
  7. The Study of Water Invertebrates in a Local River and Assessment of Its Environmental State
  8. Study of Plankton
  9. Assessment of Ecological Features of Meadows on the Base of Vegetation Cover
  10. Assessment of Environmental State of the Forest Based on LeavesТ Asymmetry

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