Biomonitoring B.C.

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 (ENV) collaborates with Environment and Climate Change Canada (ECCC) to develop and maintain biomonitoring tools in B.C. using the nationally standardized Canadian Aquatic Biomonitoring Network (CABIN) program. CABIN uses benthic macroinvertebrate communities to assess the ecological health of wadeable streams and provides standard methods for data collection and laboratory analyses that ensure biomonitoring data are collected in a consistent and scientifically defensible way.

An important feature of CABIN is the use of reference condition approach (RCA) models. The models are based on biological and habitat data collected from a wide range of reference sites and establish the natural variability of healthy benthic macroinvertebrate communities within a watershed. CABIN models are used to evaluate the aquatic health at test sites where there are concerns with the aquatic ecosystem. The differences between the benthic macroinvertebrates at the test site compared with the range of conditions found at similar reference sites provides information about the effect of stressors within a watershed. There are currently 7 operational CABIN models in B.C.

The goal of Biomonitoring B.C. is to work with our partners to maintain science-based biomonitoring tool to assess aquatic ecosystem health and support the sustainable management of B.C.’s freshwater resources.

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.

GIS Guidance for Landscape Level Habitat Data

Landscape level habitat data are required to use the CABIN RCA models, as these data are important for matching test sites with similar reference sites. These habitat variables are calculated using GIS following the techniques described in Steeves (2021).

Sampling Protocols

CABIN Reference Condition Approach Models in B.C.

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

Other Biomonitoring Reports