Waterway health indicators

Macroinvertebrates are useful biological indicators for understanding waterway health as they can withstand different levels of pollution.

Using macroinvertebrates to assess waterway health 

Macroinvertebrates are small animals without backbones that can be seen with the naked eye. A huge variety of macroinvertebrates live in our waterways, from dragonfly larvae (often called ‘mudeye’) to caddisfly larvae, diving beetles and waterboatman.

Waterbugs live in different habitats in our waterway from open water to sediment and edges. Many waterbugs depend on vegetation in a waterway for habitat. The loss of plants and erosion can threaten waterbugs and the food chains they support. Planting native vegetation on waterways and managing stormwater pollution helps to protect the waterbugs in our waterway. 

Because different macroinvertebrates can withstand different levels of pollution, they are useful biological indicators for understanding waterway health. A healthy waterway will have lots of different types of waterbugs.

Pollution sensitivity ​Macroinvertebrate examples Waterway type and location examples
​Very tolerant ​Snails, flatworms, leechs, mosquito larvae ​Highly disturbed streams, inner city, industrial areas
​Tolerant ​Freshwater shrimp, amphipod, dragonfly ​Disturbed streams, suburban streams
​Sensitive ​Caddisfly, mayfly, diving beetle  ​Streams with little disturbance, well vegetated streams in farmland or low density housing
​Very sensitive Stonefly nymphs, dobsonfly larvae ​Streams with good water quality and habitat, forested areas

Further resources 


The census was featured on Channel 11’s science show, Scope. Follow one of our Waterwatch Coordinators to Darebin Creek and find out just how much life is lurking beneath the surface!

Waterbug Census on Scope TV - transcript

Last updated:
4 March 2019