Comparison of benthic macroinvertebrate assessment methods along a salinity gradient in headwater streams

Rachel A. Pence, Thomas R. Cianciolo, Damion R. Drover, Daniel L. McLaughlin, David J. Soucek, Anthony J. Timpano, Carl E. Zipper, Stephen H. Schoenholtz

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Benthic macroinvertebrate community assessments are used commonly to characterize aquatic systems and increasingly for identifying their impairment caused by myriad stressors. Yet sampling and enumeration methods vary, and research is needed to compare their abilities to detect macroinvertebrate community responses to specific water quality variables. A common assessment method, rapid bioassessment, uses subsampling procedures to identify a fixed number of individual organisms regardless of total sample abundance. In contrast, full-enumeration assessments typically allow for expanded community characterization resulting from higher numbers of identified organisms within a collected sample. Here, we compared these two sampling and enumeration methods and their abilities to detect benthic macroinvertebrate response to freshwater salinization, a common stressor of streams worldwide. We applied both methods in headwater streams along a salinity gradient within the coal-mining region of central Appalachia USA. Metrics of taxonomic richness, community composition, and trophic function differed between the methods, yet most metrics exhibiting significant response to SC for full-enumeration samples also did for rapid bioassessment samples. However, full-enumeration yielded taxonomic-based metrics consistently more responsive to the salinization gradient. Full-enumeration assessments may potentially provide more complete characterization of macroinvertebrate communities and their response to increased salinization, whereas the more cost-effective and widely employed rapid bioassessment method can detect community alterations along the full salinity gradient. These findings can inform decisions regarding such tradeoffs for assessments of freshwater salinization in headwater streams and highlight the need for similar research of sampling and enumeration methodology in other aquatic systems and for other stressors.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number765
JournalEnvironmental Monitoring and Assessment
Issue number12
StatePublished - Dec 2021


  • Coal mining
  • Full enumeration
  • Rapid bioassessment
  • Salinization

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Environmental Science
  • Pollution
  • Management, Monitoring, Policy and Law


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