Researching invertebrates in the St. Lawrence River helps scientists monitor the health of this important ecosystem. Biologist, Alain Armellin, discusses his St. Lawrence invertebrates research, and what the scientific community has discovered so far.
This important research is an important part of the St. Lawrence Action Plan, a joint initiative between the governments of Canada and Quebec.
Learn more about the St. Lawrence Action Plan: http://planstlaurent.qc.ca/en/home.html
Learn more about the state of the St. Lawrence: http://planstlaurent.qc.ca/en/state_monitoring/overview_of_the_state_of_the_st_lawrence.html
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DR. ALAIN ARMELLIN (Biologist, Aquatic Plant and Animal Specialist, Environment and Climate Change Canada):
The St. Lawrence is an important environment, not just for the fish, birds, semi-aquatic mammals and other organisms that live in or along the river, but also for humans. Humans have occupied the shores of the St. Lawrence for hundreds, if not thousands, of years, and the river is an important transportation route that influenced early settlement and the subsequent development of towns and cities along its length.
THE ST. LAWRENCE ACTION PLAN
SCIENCE IN ACTION
DR. ALAIN ARMELLIN:
Hello, my name is Alain Armellin. I am a project manager at Environment and Climate Change Canada with the Water Quality Monitoring and Surveillance Section. My job involves biomonitoring in the St. Lawrence River.
My indicator uses what are called benthic invertebrates—insects, worms, and molluscs that live in the littoral zone and in wetlands, among cattails and other types of aquatic vegetation. For sampling, we use a kick net to collect invertebrates and we follow a strict protocol. Back in the laboratory, we count the organisms and classify them into different groups. These benthic communities are associated with certain physical and chemical parameters related to water quality, including the level of nutrients such as nitrates. They are also associated with habitat characteristics like the type of vegetation present and the state of the shoreline—how natural or altered it is.
We use various statistical tools that allow us to identify areas that face significant anthropogenic pressure—pressure from human activities of various types, even water level management. Shoreline alteration is another source of pressure. Alteration can result from something as simple as building a wall on parts of the shoreline or releasing nutrients into the water. The indicator I use allows us to check whether riparian habitats have remained healthy in spite of degradation, and continue to support healthy invertebrate communities—insects, worms and other organisms in sediment.
Usually, a community of living organisms is considered to be healthy if it is balance, in other words, it is not dominated by a particular group of organisms. Some organisms are very pollution tolerant. If these organisms are present in large numbers, this is a sign that the community is exposed to stress.
With this knowledge, we can identify measures that should be implemented, such as source reduction or perhaps shoreline renaturalization. This can lead to…or allow us to take actions that will benefit the environment.