ECCC Tributary Benthic Invertebrates

Tributary Biomonitoring (Lower Athabasca River)

Benthic macroinvertebrates, comprising insects, crusteaceans, molluscs and worms, represent a group of organisms used widely in environmental monitoring programs as early warning indicators to assess the effects of change in water quality or physical habitat conditions on aquatic ecosystem health.

An interpretive report (Culp et. al., 2018) was released in 2018 which included assessments of the benthic and supporting data from 2012-2015. An excerpt from the executive summary regarding the tributary benthic invertebrate results is provided below and the full report can be found online at

“Biomonitoring of the LAR tributaries revealed benthic assemblages associated with good ecological condition (i.e., dominated by intolerant taxa). However, assemblages in areas with increased human disturbance exhibited divergence from reference sites and this trend may be associated with mild environmental stress. Moreover, in the Steepbank and Ells rivers, the composition of benthic assemblage was associated with gradients in catchment disturbance and PAC concentration. Further investigation is required to determine whether there is a causal relationship between exposure to environmental stressors and altered assemblage composition. Across LAR tributaries, future change in benthic assemblages will be examined through development of a Reference ConditionApproach model against which test sites can be compared to determine divergence from reference sites. Comparative analyses demonstrate that kick net sampling provides higher resolution taxonomic information compared to the Hess sampling method, and ongoing assessments should employ the kick net sampling approach. Core monitoring of 15 reference and 10 test sites should be completed annually with an additional five reference and five test sites sampled on a rotational basis. New sites in the mineable area may be required to address data gaps for reference sites as well as additional sites near development boundaries. Finally, assessments are underway to relate historical data collected by the Regional Aquatic Monitoring Program (RAMP) to current JOSM data.”

Biomonitoring Water Quality

In addition to collecting benthic invertebrate samples, supporting water chemistry samples were taken on the same date.

Verified and validated water quality data from fall of 2011 through to the fall of 2017 collected to support Invertebrate and Ecosystem Health studies. Data was collected at up to twenty-one sites on the mainstem of the Athabasca River and over 100 sites on its major tributaries.

The data include measures of nutrients, metals (dissolved and total), polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons and major ions.

Data and Resources

Additional Info

Field Value
Alternate Title/Name
Creator ECCC
Contributor OSM
Publisher ECCC
Subject Aquatic Biology
Group/Subgroup Benthic Invertebrates
Parameters Benthic invertebrate community; water quality
Data Type Discrete
Temporal Coverage Begins 2011-01-01
Temporal Coverage Ends 2017-12-31
Spatial Coverage Tributaries to the Lower Athabasca River (LAR)
Spatial Projection
Usage Considerations or Constraints
Format CSV
Resouce Type Spreadsheet
Language English, French
OSM Asset? Yes
Contact Email