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two people looking closely at a sample containing macroinvertebrates

Macroinvertebrate Sampling Virtual Field Trip



Full course description

Plants and animals can serve as indicators of ecosystem health. Sometimes the smallest organisms are the biggest indicators of water quality. Benthic macroinvertebrates, small aquatic animals or larval forms of insects, do not have a backbone and are bottom-dwelling organisms. 

Because macroinvertebrates spend their entire lives in a small area, they often show the effects of environmental changes. The species and number of benthic macroinvertebrates in a habitat are indicators of the health of an aquatic ecosystem. 

Some macroinvertebrates are more sensitive to pollution than others; finding many of these species typically indicates better water quality. 

In this lesson students will ‘collect’ common benthic macroinvertebrates and then analyze quantitative data to determine the health of a variety of aquatic ecosystems. 

Contact Hour Certificate (5) 

Upon completion of this virtual field trip module, you will earn a contact hour certificate documenting 5 contact hours. 


Upon completion of this activity, students should be able to: 

  • list basic characteristics of and identify common benthic macroinvertebrates. 
  • describe how to collect and sort benthic macroinvertebrates to assess water quality. 
  • explain how and why benthic macroinvertebrates serve as biotic indicators of the health of aquatic ecosystems. 

Grade Levels 6 - 12 Life Science/Environmental Science 

Time Required Approximately 1-2 class periods 

  • Alignment Ohio’s Learning Standards and Model Science Curriculum for Science 
  • HS: Environmental Science 
  • Earth Systems: Interconnected Spheres of Earth 
  • ENV.ES.1 Biosphere (biodiversity, ecosystems) 
  • HS: Environmental Science - Earth’s Resources 
  • ENV.ER.3 Water and Water Pollution (water quality) Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) 
  • DCI: Life Science 
  • LS2.C Ecosystem Dynamics, Functioning and Resilience 
  • DCI: Life Science - LS4.C Adaptation 
  • PI: Ecosystems: Interactions, Energy, and Dynamics 
  • MS-LS2-4 - PI: Ecosystems: Interactions, Energy, and Dynamics 
  • HS-LS2-2, HS-LS2-6, HS-LS4-5 
  • CC: Structure and Function; Cause and Effect 
    • Analyze complex natural structures and systems to determine how they function. 
  • CC: Structure and Function; Cause and Effect 
    • Use cause and effect relationships to predict phenomena in natural or designed systems. 
  • SEP: Analyzing and Interpreting Data 
    • MS: Analyze and interpret data to provide evidence for phenomena

If you have questions about the course, contact Angela Greene at

For technical assistance with the ScarletCanvas platform, including logging in and password concerns, please contact CFAES Online Outreach team at 

Please allow at least 24 hours for a reply during business hours, 72 hours over holidays and weekends. 

Ohio Sea Grant, College of Food Agricultural and Environmental Sciences and NOAA logo

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