Super Bugs in our Water

Aug 01, 2022
Our streams and rivers in Central Oregon are full of life. Some of these stream inhabitants, like macroinvertebrates or water bugs, possess a super power--they can tell us about the health of our local streams and rivers.


Our streams and rivers in Central Oregon are full of life. From green algae to tiny insects to large salmon, the diversity they contain is truly amazing. But even more amazing is that some of these stream inhabitants, like macroinvertebrates or water bugs, possess a super power! They can tell us about the health of our local streams and rivers.

A stonefly larvae in a box during a sampling outing. Photo: Gary Miller.
A stonefly larvae in a box during a sampling outing. Photo: Gary Miller.
Macroinvertebrates are small but still visible insects that lack a backbone. Insects like stoneflies, mayflies, and beetles are all examples of macroinvertebrates, or macros. Aquatic macros begin their life in the water and then go through metamorphosis, like butterflies. During this transformation they change from an egg to larva and then to an adult stage. In order to complete their life cycle, they must find healthy waters they can inhabit.

Water quality refers to the chemical, biological, and physical characteristics of a body of water. We monitor and measure water quality to ensure it is safe for drinking, for wildlife, for recreation, and for our growing and harvesting our food supply. While there are lots of ways to monitor water quality, macroinvertebrates provide a quick and easy way to see how stream or river is fairing.

Macroinvertebrates are great indicators of water quality because they spend all or most of their life in the water, they are easy to find and collect, and they respond to different levels of water pollution. For example, mayflies and stoneflies are really sensitive to poor water quality. Dragonflies and crayfish can live in a wide range of water quality. Leeches and water striders can survive in very poor water. Sampling macroinvertebrates in a stream will show you what kinds of macros are present and in what abundance. In general, streams with lots of different macroinvertebrates are healthier overall.

A volunteer helps survey macroinvertebrates on Whychus Creek. Photo: Land Trust.
A volunteer helps survey macroinvertebrates on Whychus Creek. Photo: Land Trust.
Macroinvertebrates are key to the biological health of our rivers and streams, and biological health is the best ways to evaluate how healthy our waters are. If the biological condition is good, usually the chemical and physical are as well. That's why the Land Trust partners with the Upper Dechutes Watershed Council on long-term monitoring of stream restoration projects at our Preserves on Whychus Creek. Understanding the community of macros that are present, helps us understand how our restoration projects are progressing over time, and combined with other indicators, the effectiveness of our restoration techniques.

Land conservation plays a huge role in healthy water quality. Protected lands provide a buffer for rivers and streams keeping pollutants out of the water, providing shady streambanks that help prevent erosion and keep waters cool, and creating diverse habitat in the water for a wide variety of species.
Taking care of the land is taking care of the water that sustain us. We hope our efforts will bring healthier streams and hundreds of macros for years to come!


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