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Stream macroinvertebrate richness - a case study

Macroinvertebrates are invertebrates that are large enough to be seen with the naked eye. Some common macroinvertebrates found in wetlands include dragonfl, mayfly, and caddisfly nymphs, worms, snails, beetles, leeches, small crustaceans and other insects.

Water beetle Photo by Water Planning Ecology Group, DSITIA

Quick facts

are useful indicators of the health or condition of wetlands and other water bodies as they respond to many kinds of changes in water quality or physical disturbance to the landscape around the site, wetland structure and hydrology.[5] 

Fine silt and clay Photo by Water Planning Ecology Group, DSITIA

Flooded trees Photo by Water Planning Ecology Group, DSITIA

Sand and rock Photo by Water Planning Ecology Group, DSITIA

Substrate composition and heterogeneity in streams[6]

Diversity of local conditions has long been considered a primary influence on stream invertebrate richness[10]. The availability of different substrate types from hard (cobbles, boulders or bedrock) to soft (sand, silt or clay) is influenced by geology, hydrology, and topography. Many studies have identified substrate composition, complexity and heterogeneity as major determinants of in-stream biota[2][4][7][8][1]. For example, detailed studies of abiotic influences upon occurrence patterns of Ephemeroptera and Odonata species in Hong Kong streams found substrate composition and heterogeneity to be the strongest correlate with population sizes of almost all species and thus also with assemblage structure[3]. Further evidence of the importance of substrate is provided by studies demonstrating large changes in the faunal composition of streams subject to substrate modifications as a consequence of increased sedimentation[11][9].

Macroinvertebrate richness

In a review of environmental factors influencing the biodiversity of stream insects, Vinson and Hawkins (1998) identified consistent empirical associations in which more complex substrate types support more taxa than structurally simple types such as sand or bedrock.  As such, provinces dominated by fine silt and clay with little hard substrate availability (e.g. Murray-Darling) tend to have lower macroinvertebrate richness than those with high substrate heterogeneity (e.g. Central or Wet Tropics).

In general, hard substrate classes (e.g. cobbles, boulders and bedrock) fulfil a number of ecological requirements for macroinvertebrate taxa.  They function as shelter from predators, substrate for bio-film development, ambush points for predators, substrate for egg attachment, flood and drought refuge.  In areas with low hard substrate availability their function can be replicated by large woody debris.

Table: Results of Pearson’s correlations between substrate heterogeneity and number of substrate classes present with macroinvertebrate sample richness fromABMAP reference sites throughout Queensland.

Habitat r p
Pool ( n = 403) Heterogeneity 0.35 <0.0001
No. classes 0.35 <0.0001
Edge ( n = 768) Heterogeneity 0.18 <0.0001
No. classes 0.15 <0.0001
Riffle ( n = 450) Heterogeneity 0.26 <0.0001
No. classes 0.26 <0.0001
Rock and sand substrate Photo by Water Planning Ecology Group, DSITIA
macroinvertebrate richness graphs

Bank shape and slope

Banks with low slopes and with steps or flat benches are likely to accumulate organic matter to a greater degree than steep banks. When inundated, the accumulated organic matter can provide habitat for biota and sources of energy to aquatic foodwebs.

Bank slope also influences the benthic photic zone area in turbid systems. As light penetration is a function of water depth, shallow sloping areas (e.g. benches or steps) are likely to provide a greater area of benthic production than steep sloping banks.

Inundated benches and under-cut areas represent important habitat for biota, for example young golden perch, Macquaria ambigua, use inundated vegetated benches and there is evidence recruitment is more successful in the presence of these features. Other species of fish, such as the eel-tailed catfish Tandanus tandanus, utilise under-cut banks as an important adult habitat.


  1. ^ Beisel, JN, Usseglio-Polatera, P, Thomas, S & Moreteau, JC (1998), 'Stream community structure in relation to spatial variation:  the influence of mesohabitat characteristics', Hydrobiologia, vol. 389, pp. 73-88, Springer.
  2. ^ Downes, BJ & Keough, MJ (1998), 'Scaling of colonization processes in streams: Parallels and lessons from marine hard substrata', Australian Journal of Ecology, vol. 23, pp. 8-26, Wiley.
  3. ^ Dudgeon, D (1992), Patterns and Processes in Stream Ecology, A synoptic review of Hong Kong running waters, p. 147, Schweizertbart.
  4. ^ Flecker, AS & Allan, JD (1984), 'The importance of predation, substrate and spatial refugia in determining lotic insect distributions', Oecologia, vol. 64, pp. 306-313, Springer.
  5. ^ Helgen, J (2002), Wetland Health Evaluation Program (WHEP) Macroinvertebrate Sampling. [online] Available at: [Accessed 19 September 2012].
  6. ^ Marshall, JC (2001), Factors influencing the composition of faunal assemblages in rainforest stream pools. [online], Griffith University, Queensland, Australia. Available at:
  7. ^ Minshall, GW & Robinson, CT (1998), 'Macroinvertebrate community structure in relation to measures of lotic habitat heterogeneity', Archiv fur Hydrobiologie, vol. 141, pp. 129-151, Schweizerbart.
  8. ^ Richards, C, Host, GE & Arthur, JW (1993), 'Identification of predominant environmental factors structuring stream macroinvertebrate communities within a large agricultural catchment', Freshwater Biology, vol. 29, pp. 285-294, Wiley.
  9. ^ Richardson, BA (1985), 'The impact of forest road construction on the benthic invertebrate and fish fauna of a coastal stream in southern New South Wales', Bulletin of the Australian Society of Limnology, vol. 10, pp. 65-88, Australian Society of Limnology.
  10. ^ Thienemann, A (1954), 'Ein drittes biozonotisches Grundprinzip', Archiv für Hydrobiologie, vol. 49, pp. 421-422, Schweizerbart.
  11. ^ Wood, PJ & Armitage, PD (1997), 'Biological effects of fine sediment in the lotic environment', Envrionmental Management, vol. 21, pp. 203-217, Springer.

Last updated: 22 March 2013

This page should be cited as:

Department of Environment, Science and Innovation, Queensland (2013) Stream macroinvertebrate richness - a case study, WetlandInfo website, accessed 25 June 2024. Available at:

Queensland Government
WetlandInfo   —   Department of Environment, Science and Innovation