Featured resource: Puget Sound Stream Benthos

Puget Sound Stream Benthos is a data management project which monitors benthic invertebrates in streams and rivers in the Puget Sound region. The system is maintained and operated by King County and was the result of a joint effort between King, Pierce, and Snohomish Counties.

Benthic macroinvertebrates are visible to the naked eye. Photo by Jo Wilhelm, courtesy King County.
Benthic macroinvertebrates are visible to the naked eye. Photo by Jo Wilhelm, courtesy King County.

The benthic macroinvertebrate community, consisting of insects, crustaceans, snails, clams, and worms living in or near the streambed, is a crucial part of the stream ecosystem, and the health of those organisms serves as a valuable indicator of overall stream health. In 2007, the City of Seattle, King County, Pierce County, and Snohomish County began developing the Puget Sound Stream Benthos (PSSB), a website that facilitates sharing and storing macroinvertebrate data for agencies interested in the health of Puget Sound streams and rivers.

The site uses the Benthic Index of Biotic Integrity (BIBI), calibrated for the Puget Sound Lowlands. The method provides an integrated quantitative score based on 10 individual metrics that measure overall taxa richness and percentages of tolerant, intolerant, and predatory species. Based on the BIBI score, stream condition is ranked in one of five categories, from Very Poor to Excellent. Users of the PSSB site can search for BIBI scores for regional streams (organized by watershed), rivers, or individual monitoring projects. Many streams have only recent scores listed, but the site includes historical macroinvertebrate data from 17 regional agencies and is continually expanding.

The database fills an important niche, allowing organizations to compare data between years, monitoring programs, and various taxonomic laboratories. Laboratories can directly upload data, calculate BIBI scores, and apply geographic, jurisdictional, or temporal filters, and data is available for download via maps, tables, and text files. The project has helped improve monitoring and illuminated areas where coverage is sparse. Recommendations for future efforts include streamlining sampling protocol, features and upgrades for data management, and expansion of the data management system to include other types of data, such as stream flow, water temperature, turbidity, and pH.