Coastal Habitats & Species—Macroinvertebrates

Summary: Students will examine different aquatic habitats, collect macroinvertebrates from each and use an index to determine water quality based on the relative presence and absence of tolerant and intolerant species of macroinvertebrates found in each sample.

Concepts to teach: Aquatic habitats and species, biomonitoring

Goals: Students will understand how macroinvertebrates can be indicators of environmental and habitat quality.

6.2L.2, 6.3S.1, 7.2E.1, 7.2E.3, 7.3S.1, 7.3S.2, 8.3S.1

Specific Objectives:

  1. Identify common macroinvertebrates
  2. Explain the meaning of tolerant and intolerant species
  3. Understand the role of an index as a tool for generating a single number for comparison of diverse entities.
  4. Students use collected data to assess the health of aquatic environments

Activity Links and Resources:

  • Macroinvertebrates Summary adapted from Florida Department of Conservation
  • The 550-page Stream Scene curriculum is available in .pdf format on the ODFW website, and covers a variety of watershed topics. The chapter Aquatic Organisms contains two macroinvertebrate lessons:
    • Build a Bug, p. 319—“Students work in small teams to build an aquatic insect model out of simple materials.”
    • Water Wigglers, p. 335—“Students collect material from microhabitats within a determined reach of stream. Invertebrates are taken from these samples and sorted into feeding groups. A count is kept of each feeding group on the data sheet and the percentage of each group/habitat is calculated.”
  • StreamWebs—This student stewardship network from OSU Extension provides open-source, web-based tools for watershed data management, analysis, and networking for teachers and students. Includes a data sheet for assessing stream health through macroinvertebrate sampling.
    • Sample macroinvertebrates from one or more streams or ponds, and calculate Water Quality Ratings
    • Post results on SteamWebs and seek out similar data collected by others
    • Compare Water Quality Ratings for sites separated by geography or time
  • Aquatic Macroinvertebrate Dichotomous Key (from Georgia)


  • Use collected data to answer the following questions:
    • Based upon your data, what is the relative health of the water body you studied? Please support your answer.
    • What advantages and disadvantages would looking at macroinvertebrate populations have over a direct examination of physical and chemical parameters of water quality?