By Lauren Allen, Learning Scientist
On October 18, 2016 our external evaluator and I observed, surveyed, and focus-grouped a small group of volunteers who attended a macroinvertebrate training about an hour outside of Pittsburgh. The group had recently formed with the intention of performing ongoing water quality monitoring using chemical, physical, and biological measures. Many of the volunteers had backgrounds in scientific, engineering, and chemistry or science fields. They were eager to learn more about the biological factors that can reveal information about the water quality in their county. What we learned from this training in particular is that without high-quality visual resources, including photographs and illustrations or diagrams, it is very difficult, even for engaged and motivated volunteers, to get a clear understanding of the breadth and depth of knowledge they will need to be able to identify macroinvertebrates to the standard volunteer levels, which we have been describing as "order-level with some families". Attached is an example of the identification sheet that shows the groups of macroinvertebrates that volunteers are asked to distinguish, the common names that are used, and which orders are broken into sub-order groups.
For example, specimens from order Megaloptera are differentiated--volunteers are asked to distinguish Hellgramites from Fishflies and Alderflies. Additionally, volunteers are asked to distinguish between two types of Trichoptera: netspinning and non-netspinning caddisflies. There are a few other examples of these distinctions that volunteers are asked to make (as can be seen below), but generally, volunteers are asked to identify macroinvertebrates to order. Some other protocols include additional or fewer macroinvertebrates to count. For example, in the protocol below, only damselflies are called out as "Somewhat Sensitive" organisms, however, dragonflies are not included.
An interdisciplinary team