Mainstem Benthic Invertebrates, Oil Sands Region
Mainstem Athabasca River Biomonitoring
Benthic macroinvertebrates, comprising insects, crusteaceans, molluscs and worms, represent a group of organisms used widely in environmental monitoring programs as early warning indicators to assess the effects of change in water quality or physical habitat conditions on aquatic ecosystem health.
In addition to collecting benthic invertebrate samples, supporting water chemistry samples were taken on the same date.
The species richness of invertebrates recorded in the Lower Athabasca River sites was reflective of the complex and diverse habitats found in that area and largely exhibited good ecological condition with intolerant Ephemeroptera, Plecoptera and Trichoptera taxa found in large abundances at all sampling sites. Diversity at these sites was as expected for a large northern river. The middle reaches of the study area that are exposed to municipal sewage effluent from Fort McMurray and oil sands development show increased relative abundance of tolerant taxa. Far field sites considerably downstream of the development shifted back towards reference communities upstream of the disturbance. Definitive conclusions regarding natural variations and impacts of development require additional analysis and the integration of the resultant macroinvertebrate data with additional environmental information to determine drivers of ecological change.
Biomonitoring Water Quality
Verified and validated water quality data from fall of 2011 through to the fall of 2013 collected to support Invertebrate and Ecosystem Health studies. Data was collected at twenty-one sites on the mainstem of the Athabasca River, sixty sites on its major tributaries and twenty-nine sites in the expanded geographic area, including deltaic wetlands and several streams.
The data include measures of nutrients, metals (dissolved and total), polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons and major ions. Along with other environmental measures, the data are used to determine factors affecting the status and trends in the benthic invertebrate community composition and contribute to assessment of the health of the aquatic ecosystem.
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