The Russian River supports a great diversity of life including macroinvertebrates, which are just big enough to see without magnification and have no backbone. These tiny creatures live in the gravel and mud, also called benthic habitat, at the bottom of the river. They’re a key source of nutrition for steelhead and salmon and a major part of the food chain. Knowing which types are living underneath our feet can tell us if our water is clean.

Comprised mostly of insect larvae, aquatic beetles, worms and clams, macroinvertebrates are easy to capture and study with a group of students. There is very little research or information about these creatures in the Russian River, so with the help of the Healdsburg Forever grant, we started a pilot program to study them and collect data with local students. Some species are sensitive to the quality of the water, and if we find these species we can conclude that the water quality and conditions in that part of the river is good.  If we only find hardy species that can tolerate poor water quality, we can say that conditions in that part of the river are bad.  As we build our study and gather valuable data, we can start to map out our river’s prime spots for productivity as well as flag areas that need improvement in water quality.

Macroinvertebrates need clean water, too!