An EC scientist is pictured Kick-net sampling for benthic macroinvertebrates in the Ashnola River in BC.
Photo: © Environment Canada, 2011
Every day over 800 Environment Canada employees work to protect and conserve our country’s water quality and quantity. With over seven per cent of the world’s freshwater this is a huge task across a massive country – the second largest landmass in the world.
Our scientists are always working to find new and better ways to fully understand water quality. Their latest addition to our arsenal of tools is bugs. The little critters that live in water are being used to get a full picture of what is going on in our aquatic ecosystems.
Canadian Aquatic Biomonitoring Network (CABIN)
In 2006, Environment Canada launched the Canadian Aquatic Biomonitoring Network (CABIN). CABIN is an aquatic biological monitoring program that works to assess the health of freshwater ecosystems in Canada by looking at the bugs in the water.
National Science Forum
The first ever National CABIN Science Forum was held this past November in Vancouver, British Columbia.
The forum brought together CABIN users from a variety of sectors government agencies, academia, and community watershed programs to exchange information as well as future CABIN users to learn
more about CABIN. Proceedings from the workshop can be found online at www.ec.gc.ca/rcba-cabin
Examining the little creatures and the bugs that live in the water allows scientists to understand water conditions over a long period of time. This is a photo of a caddisfly called Hydroptilidae.
Photo: © Environment Canada, 2011
Why monitor bugs?
Traditional water quality monitoring looks at the physical-chemical make up of the water and provides a snapshot of the conditions at the moment the sample is collected. This type of monitoring requires the collection of many samples throughout the season in order to make an assessment of some aspects of water quality.
The CABIN program takes a different approach; by looking at the little creatures and the bugs normally collected during a single visit in the season, scientists are able to understand water conditions over a long period of time. The bugs tell us a story about their cumulative exposure to the water they live in. By monitoring biological organisms (aka bugs) we are able to measure the effect, impact and damage of the water quality.
“CABIN is filling an important gap in terms of watershed knowledge, going beyond end-of-pipe pollution and looking at effects on key aquatic ecosystem organisms which are very good indicators of overall aquatic ecosystems health,” says Jean-Francois Bibeault, the Manager of Freshwater Quality Monitoring and Surveillance in Atlantic Canada for Environment Canada.
Which bugs tell the best story and why?
Many types of creatures can be used for biomonitoring including invertebrates, macrophytes, algae, zooplankton and fish. Because these organisms are sensitive to a variety of disturbances they are recognized as environmental indicators. Currently, CABIN uses benthic invertebrate communities to assess aquatic ecosystem health.
The dragonfly larva - an insect which is studied in the CABIN program - has a unique mouthpart with a lower lip that folds in on itself. It is pictured here slightly opened.
Photo: H. McDermott © Environment Canada, 2011
Benthic invertebrates or bottom dwelling animals without backbones – aka bugs, live in all freshwater ecosystems. This group includes the larval stages of many insects such as mayflies, dragonflies, mosquitoes as well as other animals such as worms and mites.
Some of the advantages of using these bottom dwelling animals is that they reflect site-specific impacts as well as cumulative impacts. These little creatures respond to a wide range of stressors and can be collected everywhere, they are a key part of the food web and the protocols for their use in biomonitoring are well developed.
Who collects the bugs?
CABIN was designed for professionals in water quality monitoring and assessment, but has been successfully applied by community watershed groups who want to expand their stream monitoring activities. The data within the CABIN database is gathered by all CABIN users including federal, provincial, territorial and municipal governments, environmental consultants, academia and community watershed groups.
“The development of the CABIN program into a true network has allowed us in EC to partner closely with other agencies such as provincial ministries and other federal departments to accomplish goals in ecosystem monitoring and assessment that we would have not been able to do alone,” says Stephanie Strachan, Aquatic Scientist with Environment Canada.
CABIN promotes inter-agency collaboration and data-sharing to achieve consistent and comparable reporting on freshwater quality across Canada. Standard methods are taught through the CABIN training and certification program. Trained CABIN users gain access to a suite of online tools and resources such as a national database of biological reference condition information, a data management system, analytical software and reporting tools.
How do the bugs tell their story?
In order to evaluate the health of the aquatic ecosystem we have to have a control, something that represents “normal” or a “healthy ecosystem”. We have established a series of reference sites that provide the basis to compare the health of test sites. Test sites are in unknown conditions and are being examined for possible biological impairment due to exposure to human activities. Test sites are often assessed because of suspected impacts from poor water quality or habitat degradation.
The reference condition approach is a method for evaluating whether or not a test site is similar to what you would expect if it was in reference condition – the way it should be if it was not exposed and impacted by human activities - and if not, how different it is. At a test site, samples are collected from the stream to look at the community of bugs (benthic invertebrate) as well as the physical and chemical water quality. Information about the habitat in and around the stream is also collected at the same time. This information makes it possible to determine the expected biological reference conditions for this site, or what the benthic invertebrate community at the site should look like if minimally affected by human activity.
By using a standard method to collect field data, Environment Canada and its network of partners can share data for the benefit of all. The result is a better understanding of aquatic ecosystem health in Canada.
The CABIN water monitoring program is one of the many tools being used to make sure we have an understanding of water quality across our country. For more information about the CABIN program visit www.ec.gc.ca/rcba-cabin.
- Date Modified:
- Over 800 Environment Canada employees work to protect and conserve our country’s water quality and quantity.
- CABIN is an aquatic biological monitoring program that works to assess the health of freshwater ecosystems in Canada by looking at the bugs in the water.
- Currently, CABIN uses benthic invertebrate communities to assess aquatic ecosystem health.
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