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Upper Athabasca Biomonitoring Trip
AWC-WPAC and Science | athabasca watershed, benthic, biomonitoring, monitoring, and watershed | October 2021

Ashley Johnson, Science and Education Coordinator

Over the first weekend of October, our watershed coordinator Sarah, our executive director Petra, and our board member Paula drove to the headwaters of the McLeod River for the AWC’s Upper Athabasca Biomonitoring Project. If you’ve read the site selection trip blog post you’ll know we were initially going to do sampling in September, but circumstances resulted in a reschedule.

I unfortunately couldn’t make it out to help with sampling, so I’ve asked Sarah to share the sites they chose to sample.

“We went to one site at Solomon Creek the first day. On the second day we went to one site at Gregg River, one at Whitehorse Creek campground, and one on the McLeod River.”

From left to right: Solomon Creek; Gregg River; Whitehorse Creek; McLeod River.

According to Sarah and Petra, their first site took them almost three hours to complete! By the last site on the McLeod River, the team had gotten their routine down to an hour and a half.

They used the ‘CABIN’ sampling protocol– the Canadian Aquatic Biomonitoring Network. This is a method being used across Canada to assess the health of aquatic ecosystems. A standard protocol for sampling allows scientists to directly compare the information collected from different streams, and through time.

Using CABIN protocols, Sarah, Petra, and Paula collected benthic invertebrates using a kick net. Benthic invertebrate is the technical term for a bunch of critters, including insect larvae (baby bugs), snails and freshwater clams, as well as any other organisms that lack a spine.

Sarah kick-netting at the McLeod River.

They took multiple samples; one will go to a taxonomist and the others will go to a lab for environmental DNA analysis. The eDNA analysis is for an initiative called STREAM: Sequencing the Rivers for Environmental Assessment and Monitoring.

They also collected water chemistry information, including temperature, dissolved oxygen, turbidity, and pH.

Paula doing water chemistry testing on the shore of the McLeod River.

A big thank you goes out to Paula for helping Sarah and Petra with the sampling trip. This year’s sampling was mostly to get a feel for the project, and hopefully we’ll be able to do more sampling next year! This project is financially supported by Alberta Conservation Association and Alberta EcoTrust.