Photo Credit: Rob Hinchliffe

Aquatic Invertebrates

Summary information about aquatic invertebrate is under development. 

Raw data are available for download at: ABMI Species and Habitat Data.

Photo Credit: Rob Hinchliffe


Aquatic invertebrates are animals without a backbone that live in fresh water. Often referred to as aquatic bugs, they are a very diverse group that forms a key link in aquatic and terrestrial food webs.

Facts About Aquatic Invertebrates

image Photo Credit: R. Hinchliffe

Some aquatic invertebrate populations, such as the Daphnia sp. pictured, can reach extremely high densities, with thousands to tens of thousands of individuals per cubic metre.

  • The number of aquatic invertebrate species in a wetland typically outnumbers all other plant and animal species combined.
  • The group includes everything from tiny worms and leeches rooting around in the sediment, to the open-water zooplankton community, to dragonfly and damselfly larvae prowling through the weeds.
  • Feeding strategies are as diverse as the group itself, ranging from scavengers, shredders, and filter feeders, to predators that eat other invertebrates and sometimes small vertebrates like fish and amphibians.
  • Aquatic invertebrates can be found anywhere there is water—not just in lakes, wetlands, rivers, and streams, but also ponds, puddles, and even in the thin film of water found on mosses.

Aquatic Invertebrate Diversity in Alberta

Our knowledge of aquatic invertebrate diversity in Alberta is not fully complete. To date, approximately 1200 species of aquatic invertebrates are known to occur in Alberta, with diversity estimates as high as 3000+ species. The ABMI has collected ~675 distinct taxonomic groups so far (both genera and species).

Why Monitor Aquatic Invertebrates

  • Aquatic invertebrates drive many of the biological processes that support aquatic ecosystems, and allow those ecosystems to function effectively.
  • Aquatic invertebrates fill diverse ecological roles, allowing them to show responses to natural and anthropogenic disturbance from a variety of sources.
  • Aquatic invertebrates are easy to sample, can be identified using available taxonomic keys, and have well-known life histories.
  • Aquatic invertebrates are proven indicators of aquatic ecosystem health, being commonly used in many lotic watershed assessments.
image Photo Credit: R. Hinchliffe

A damselfly (Enallagma sp.) larva lying in wait for unsuspecting prey to venture too close.

Spotlight on Aquatic Invertebrate Projects

Photo Credit: R. Hinchliffe
Aquatic Invertebrate Collection Methods Comparison Study—Technical Report
  • Project Goal: Evaluate the effectiveness of the ABMI aquatic invertebrate collection method (composite transect approach—CTA) in comparison with a more recently developed traveling sweep approach (TSA).
  • Background: Long-term biomonitoring programs must balance consistency of data and sample collection with new developments in collection and processing methods. Making changes to the way the ABMI collects and processes aquatic invertebrate samples has implications for data comparability across years. If a new, more efficient method of sample collection is found, it must be assessed to ensure it provides similar data, and to determine if any calibration factors need to be applied to maintain data comparability across sample years.
  • Key Findings: The new TSA method is a more efficient sample collection method that provides similar data to the CTA method. However, further investigation is needed to validate the findings and develop calibration factors.
  • Link to ReportAquatic Invertebrate Collection Methods Comparison Study—Technical Report

Meet the ABMI's Resident Aquatic Invertebrate Experts

Rob Hinchliffe

Lead Scientist, Aquatic Invertebrates

Rob is the aquatic invertebrate lead scientist for the ABMI and has been involved with the institute since 2006. Rob is an aquatic biologist and avid fly fisher who has been fascinated by the diversity of aquatic bugs from an early age. 

Cheryl Tebby

Aquatic Invertebrate Taxonomist

Cheryl started her role as an aquatic invertebrate taxonomist for the ABMI in 2014 after developing a passion for invertebrates in university. Cheryl specializes in aquatic chironomid larvae identification.

Alex Lapierre

Aquatic Invertebrate Taxonomist

Alex has been an aquatic invertebrate taxonomist for the ABMI since 2017. Prior to this he was a regular on the ABMI seasonal field crews. A lifelong naturalist, Alex's favourite aquatic invertebrates are water boatmen—so similar to each other yet unique at the same time!

Stephen Srayko

Aquatic Invertebrate Taxonomist

Stephen has been working as an aquatic invertebrate taxonomist with the ABMI since 2023. He hails from Saskatchewan, where he first became fascinated with the abundance and diversity of aquatic invertebrates supported by wetlands, and how these ecosystems are connected to a broader food web across the landscape.

If you have questions about the ABMI's aquatic invertebrate monitoring program, please get in touch:

Additional Resources and Publications

How do we monitor aquatic invertebrates?

Alberta Biodiversity Monitoring Institute. 2019. Wetland field data collection protocols (abridged version) 2019-07-02. Alberta Biodiversity Monitoring Institute, Alberta, Canada. Report available at:

Alberta Biodiversity Monitoring Institute. 2015. Processing aquatic invertebrates, 2015-07-23. Alberta Biodiversity Monitoring Institute, Alberta, Canada. Report available at:

How do we identify aquatic invertebrates?

Aquatic invertebrate specimens are identified to family or genus level using the following resources:

Merritt, R.W., K.W. Cummins, and M.B. Berg. 2019. An introduction to the aquatic insects of North America, 5th ed. Kendall Hunt Publishing, Dubuque, Iowa, United States.

Thorp, J.H. and D.C. Covich. 2016. Freshwater invertebrates, volume II, keys to Nearctic Fauna, 4th ed. Academic Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts, United States.

Other resources used to confirm genus identifications and identify specimens to species include:

Larson, D.L., Y. Alaire, and R.E. Roughly. 2000. Predaceous diving beetles (Coleoptera: Dytiscidae) of the Nearctic Region, with emphasis on the fauna of Canada and Alaska. NRC Research Press, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada.

Tennessen, K.J. 2019. Dragonfly nymphs of North America. Springer Nature, Cham, Switzerland.

Westfall, M.J. and M.L. May. 2006. Damselflies of North America. Scientific Publishers, Gainesville, Florida, United States.

Wiggins, G.B. 1996. Larvae of the North American caddisfly genera (Trichoptera), 2nd ed. University of Toronto Press, Toronto, Ontario, Canada.

Other groups are identified to species using resources from the primary literature, and “in-house” identification keys including the following:

Hinchliffe, R.P. 2019. Haliplidae of Alberta (Version 1.0). Alberta Biodiversity Monitoring Institute, Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. Available here:

For more information on identifying aquatic invertebrates, contact Rob Hinchliffe (email above).

Aquatic invertebrate data:

Raw data are available for download: ABMI Species and Habitat Data

Selected publications:


A newly emerged adult Spiny Baskettail dragonfly (Epitheca spinigera).

Hinchliffe, R.P., C. Tebby, and T.P. Cobb. 2019. First recorded co-occurrence of Valvata lewisi Currier, 1868 and Valvata lewisi ontariensis Baker, 1931 (Gastropoda: Valvatidae) from Alberta, Canada, with notes on morphometric and genetic variability. Canadian Field-Naturalist 133(3): 189-192.

Lapierre, A., R. Hinchliffe, C. Tebby, C., and T. Cobb. 2019. New record of Neohaemonia melsheimeri (Lacordaire, 1845) (Coleoptera: Chrysomelidae) from Alberta, Canada. The Coleopterists Bulletin, 73(2): 1-3.

Lapierre, A., R. Hinchliffe, C. Tebby, C., and T. Cobb. 2021. New records of water boatman (Hemiptera: Corixidae) from Alberta, Canada. Entomological News, 129(5): 522-528.

Tebby, C., R. Hinchliffe, and T. Cobb. 2019. New waterboatman record for Alberta, Corisella inscripta (Hemiptera: Corixidae). Entomological News, 128(4): 407-409.

Select presentations & videos:

We are grateful for the support of the ABMI's delivery partners.


We would like to acknowledge the organizations and sponsors highlighted below who financially supported the development of this report.