Guide for Benthic Invertebrate Studies in Support of Natural Resource Damage Assessment and Restoration

Open-File Report 2022-1110
By: , and 



This guide is intended to assist with characterizing injury to freshwater benthic macroinvertebrates (BMIs) in Natural Resource Damage Assessment and Restoration (NRDAR) cases. The contents are narrowly focused on insects, crustaceans, snails, and other invertebrate fauna that are typically considered part of BMI communities and are not intended to address studies of injury to larger benthic taxa such as freshwater mussels, crayfish, or benthic fishes or amphibians. Although some percentage of the community functions as predators, BMIs are predominantly primary consumers (for example, scrapers, shredders, and filterer/gatherer feeding groups) that play an essential role in converting carbon and nitrogen from plant tissues into animal biomass for higher-order consumers, especially in flowing waters. Aquatic contaminants can disrupt the quantity and quality of energy transferred (ecosystem function) by reducing invertebrate biomass and diversity. Additionally, the accumulation of toxic residues in invertebrate tissues may be a source of exposure leading to adverse effects in higher trophic levels. The goal of NRDAR BMI assessments is to establish direct linkages of contaminant exposure to injuries reflected by changes in community structure (for example, reduced density and taxa richness) or by effects at the individual population level (for example, survival, growth, and reproduction). BMIs are infrequently the U.S. Department of Interior (DOI)-managed resource in a NRDAR case, with managed resources more frequently including migratory birds, fish, or other insectivorous vertebrates. Therefore, it is critical to have clearly defined objectives for evaluating BMIs and an understanding of how invertebrate data relate to the quantification of injuries to the DOI-managed resource. This guide is intended to assist decisions on whether or not to proceed with BMI studies, use of existing information and data for screening purposes, and what types of studies can support a BMI-injury determination. This document is intended to provide general considerations and best practices for assessing BMIs. Relevant guidance and references are listed throughout the report as sources for specific methods and analysis.

Suggested Citation

Soucek, D.J., Farag, A.M., Besser, J.M., and Steevens, J.A., 2023, Guide for benthic invertebrate studies in support of Natural Resource Damage Assessment and Restoration: U.S. Geological Survey Open-File Report 2022–1110, 11 p.,

ISSN: 2331-1258 (online)

Table of Contents

  • Introduction
  • Characterizing Chemical Exposure
  • Benthic Community Surveys
  • Toxicity Testing
  • Data Analysis
  • Monitoring Restoration Success
  • Selected References
Publication type Report
Publication Subtype USGS Numbered Series
Title Guide for benthic invertebrate studies in support of Natural Resource Damage Assessment and Restoration
Series title Open-File Report
Series number 2022-1110
DOI 10.3133/ofr20221110
Year Published 2023
Language English
Publisher U.S. Geological Survey
Publisher location Reston, VA
Contributing office(s) Columbia Environmental Research Center
Description iv, 11 p.
Online Only (Y/N) Y
Google Analytic Metrics Metrics page
Additional publication details