The Waterbug Company is currently developing the Agreed Level Taxonomy (ALT) method; a way to assess river health without microscopes, laboratories, jargon …..or even scientists.
Some waterbugs are impossible to separate to family level without a microscope – and in truth are quite difficult even with a microscope – while others are readily identifiable to genus or species using only a hand lense. This raises the question: could we change the levels to which we identify waterbugs, so that they reflect the morphological differences that can be readily seen, regardless of the (ultimately artificial) taxonomic hierarchy?
ALT uses features that are visible to the naked eye to identify macroinvertebrates. The animals are identified alive rather than being preserved. This means that features which are lost in ethanol preservation -like colour and movement – can be used to identify the animals. ALT identifications result in data sets of mixed taxonomic levels, some at genus or species, and others at higher levels.
This method gives community groups and others without access to laboratories or microscopes the ability produce reasonable resolution data sets that can be used to estimate the health of freshwater ecosystems. We are currently testing to see if the ALT levels retain enough taxonomic information to be used with a re-calculated SIGNAL score. Fingers crossed, the ALT method will provide a quick, simple approach to waterbug ID that is a practical alternative for people who want to assess stream health ….. but we are still testing it at the moment.
If you are from Victoria (Australia) and would like to try the method, feel free to download the documents on the right. We are dead keen for any feedback you might have (contact John) . If you are from elsewhere …have a go if you like …but be warned the keys are far less likely to work for you the further you are from Victoria. Their success (or otherwise) is based on us having a fairly well known pool of species that we have tuned the keys to deal with.
ALT was developed with assistance from DSE Victoria …and particularly with help from: Greg Woodward, Victoria Penko, Sarah Greenwood-Smith, and Sherridan Rosewarne …and a bunch of other ace people.