Stream Bugs: Health Indicators

Photo by Kevin FitzPatrick

Photo by Kevin FitzPatrick

Photo by Kevin FitzPatrick

On April 29, Highlands-Cashiers Land Trust enlisted the help of community members as citizen scientists to collect and identify the aquatic macroinvertebrates (stream bugs) that live in a stream near a conserved property in Scaly Mountain. 

 Nine volunteers met for a morning training session at the Highlands Biological Station for an educational presentation and specimen identification lab.  Then the crew headed to the Wildflower Creek Motor Coach Resort in Scaly, where the owners, J.B. and Susan Coram, have put part of their property into a conservation easement.  While the stream is not within the boundary of the easement, the connecting wetland, which acts as a stream buffer and filter, has been recently restored and is protected forever by HCLT through a conservation

The volunteers collected macroinvertebrates using kick nets and leaf pack sampling techniques. They then identified the collected bugs at streamside.  The presence or absence of certain insect species can give insight into the health of a stream because some species are more sensitive to pollution than others. 

 Annual stream sampling would allow HCLT to monitor changes in the macroinvertebrate community over time, which can indicate improvements or deteriorations in stream health.  HCLT is excited to be able to add this as a tool in addition to their regular annual monitoring program.  We hope that this will be the first of many citizen science stream surveys, potentially expanding to sampling other HCLT conserved properties in the future. 

We are very thankful to the Laurel Garden Club for grant support to help fund this project, to the Highlands Biological Station for use of their space and equipment, and for the Environmental Quality Institute for their guidance and resources. 

The Highlands-Cashiers Land Trust is a non-profit organization dedicated to protecting valuable land resources for all generations.  HCLT has conserved over 3,000 acres in Jackson and Macon Counties including miles of headwater streams.  To learn more about HCLT or to make a donation, please visit