Guest Post: Aquatic Invertebrates

We’re incredibly thankful to the folks at the Galena Creek Visitors Center for putting together these awesome resources for Truckee River Month!

Make sure to check out their video on our Facebook page.

After a small delay, we proudly present the Galena Creek Visitor Center’s class all about aquatic invertebrates. Learn…

Posted by One Truckee River on Wednesday, May 27, 2020
OTRM_handout

Why is aquatic invertebrate surveying important?

Aquatic and riparian habitats are some of the most endangered ecosystems, due to pollution, development, climate change, agriculture, and other factors. Scientists need to monitor these ecosystems in different ways to test their health and productivity. Aquatic invertebrates are an important measurement because they play many roles in the ecosystem and are threatened by several different environmental factors.

Ecosystem Services

Aquatic invertebrates play an important role in their ecosystem. Many are primary consumers, which means they eat plants and bacteria, keeping populations of algae and aquatic plants at a healthy level. Other species are detritivores, feeding on dead animals and plants, breaking these organisms down to nutrients that plants use to grow. Many of these species are an important prey for fish, reptiles, birds, crustaceans, and other animals in the ecosystem. Without them, the rest of the animal populations would decline. Overall, these organisms are a crucial part of the nutrient cycling of aquatic ecosystems.

Threats

Unfortunately, many of these species and their habitats are threatened by invasive species, climate change, and altered flow regimes of their waterways. Many invasive species have been introduced in aquatic ecosystems throughout the United States. These organisms have not evolved to have predators in these ecosystems, so they are often able to reproduce, spread, and wipe out their competitors quickly. Animals like the Zebra Mussel and Quagga Mussel are so detrimental to aquatic ecosystems, that many areas conduct mandatory inspections of boats and boat trailers before they are allowed to enter a waterway.

In the southwestern United States, climate change is threatening the health of aquatic ecosystems. In this region climate change is causing increased temperatures and drought, damaging the already sensitive waterways of the region.

Finally, altered flow regimes have damaged habitat for many aquatic invertebrates. Activities like groundwater mining, conversion of floodplains into agricultural land, and dams have resulted in decreased overall flow, decreased flow variation throughout the year, and/or alterations in the stream channels. Many aquatic invertebrates have evolved to rely on specific seasonal flow variations or water conditions that are now being altered, decreasing their habitat, ability to move and reproduce, and food availability.

Importance of Monitoring

Monitoring these species can help government agencies like the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) make laws and procedures around development. They can prevent projects from starting if they damage an ecosystem or stop current pollution and habitat destruction.

Measuring the diversity and abundance of aquatic macroinvertebrates, combined with measuring the temperature, pH, and other variables of the water, gives researchers a good understanding of the overall health of a riparian area. This also shows researchers what qualities of water are important for different species. For example, some species might do well in water that is crystal clear, while other species may do better in muddy water. Understanding these habitat specificities can help researchers and policy agencies make smart decisions about land use.

What can you do to help?

  1. Don’t pollute water systems. Garbage, motor oil, medications, and other human items that are put into the water system through storm drains end up in our rivers and lakes. Make sure you dispose of waste properly.
  2. Assist with aquatic invertebrate testing and water sampling. Many organizations and national and state parks conduct public sampling events, through which you can learn about the process and try it out yourself.
  3. Volunteer on a restoration project. Most local organizations that focus on wetlands or riparian ecosystems do restoration projects, and they need volunteers from the public to help. Often this involves planting trees and other fun projects.
  4. Advocate for your watershed. Vote for projects and policies that reduce pollution and protect our waterways and vote for people who support environmental protection.
  5. Learn more about our waterways and the Truckee River Watershed through these local organizations.
    1. One Truckee River – http://onetruckeeriver.org/
    2. Keep Truckee Meadows Beautiful –  https://ktmb.org/
    3. Truckee River Watershed Council – https://www.truckeeriverwc.org/