Collecting a CABIN sample at a reference site in Kwadacha Wilderness Provincial Park in Northeast B.C.

Aquatic monitoring programs usually involve collecting water and sediment samples and analyzing their chemical and physical properties. However, these results alone may not paint an accurate picture of ecological conditions. Benthic macroinvertebrates (animals without backbones that live on or near the bottoms of waterbodies and can be seen with the naked eye) are the most commonly used biological indicators of freshwater ecosystems, and can be incorporated into traditional monitoring programs to provide a direct measure of biological health.

Benthic macroinvertebrate communities are used as biological indicators because they are:

  • Diverse and respond in different ways to a wide range of stressors (for example, development, climate change).
  • Relatively sedentary and long-lived (1-3 years). They integrate the effects of environmental stressors over time and reflect both site-specific and cumulative impacts.
  • Ubiquitous and abundant and can be easily collected almost everywhere.
  • An important part of the food web.

The B.C. Ministry of Environment and Climate Change Strategy has worked closely with Environment and Climate Change Canada (ECCC) since 2003 to support the expansion of the national Canadian Aquatic Biomonitoring Network (CABIN) program across B.C. The CABIN program is used to assess the ecological health of wadeable streams by using a wide range of reference sites (minimally impacted by humans) to establish what a healthy insect community looks like. The data collected at reference sites are used to build CABIN models, which can be used to compare data at test (impacted) sites. The differences between the benthic macroinvertebrates at the reference and test sites provide an estimate of the severity of impacts within a watershed. CA​BIN models are used by government, First Nations, industry, community groups, and others to assess a wide range of impacts in an area of interest.

Important documents related to CABIN in B.C.

Reference Site Selection

Reference sites represent habitats that have minimal impacts from human and other stressors. Reference sites are selected following guidance provided in Yates and Bailey (2009)

Prior to 2015, reference sites were selected using GIS tools, as described in Norris (2012) and using best professional judgement.

Sampling Protocols

CABIN Reference Condition Approach Models in B.C.

Supporting documentation for several CABIN reference models is available. These technical documents are intended to provide background information on model development and guide CABIN users when assessing test sites.  

Other Biomonitoring Reports