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Using Invertebrate Assemblages to Create a Benthic Index of Biotic Integrity for Hawaiian Streams

Project Chief: Reuben H. Wolff
Point of Contact: Jill D. Nishimura
Project Period: July 2009 through September 2011
Cooperator: Hawaii Department of Health
Location: Islands of Oahu, Maui


The Hawaii Department of Health (HDOH) has been testing and refining the Hawaii Stream Bioassessment Protocol (HSBP) for several years and is interested in expanding the protocol to include benthic invertebrates. The HSBP is currently based on habitat characteristics and presence of native fish and macro-crustaceans as indicators of biotic integrity (Kido and others, 1999). The HDOH uses the protocol to screen the biological health of Hawaii’s streams for classification purposes and to identify water-quality problems associated with both point and non-point source pollution. Expansion of the HSBP to include benthic invertebrates will provide the HDOH with tools needed for an integrated and more robust assessment of stream quality in Hawaii.


The overall objective of this study is to provide the HDOH with new tools needed to assess the biological condition of streams in Hawaii. The new assessment tools will be based on benthic invertebrates and will be applicable to both targeted and probabilistic monitoring designs employed by the HDOH. Specific objectives of this study are to develop an effective island-specific benthic index of biotic integrity (BIBI) for Oahu and Maui and to refine the preliminary state-wide BIBI developed by Wolff (2005).

Relevance and Benefits

The study will support the USGS Science Strategy related to understanding ecosystems and predicting ecosystem change (U.S. Geological Survey, 2007). In accordance with the strategic actions identified by USGS Science Strategy Team, this study will: (1) characterize and quantify natural and human caused ranges of ecosystem variability related to benthic invertebrate assemblages, (2) quantify the consequences of ecosystem and land-use change to stream quality, and (3) develop credible indices of responses to ecosystem stressors, including land use and water-quality contaminants.


To meet the objectives of this study USGS will (1) collect invertebrate and habitat information at 40 sites on Maui, (2) create a database of available invertebrate, water quality, and habitat information for Oahu, Maui, and Kauai, (3) use statistical analyses to determine relations among land use, habitat characteristics, stream quality, and the distribution and abundance of benthic invertebrates, and (4) develop an island-specific BIBI for Oahu and Maui and refine the preliminary state-wide BIBI developed by Wolff (2005). Results from this study will be published in the USGS Scientific Investigations Report series and made available on the internet.


Compiled and reviewed the macroinvertebrate and habitat data from the 40 sampling sites on Maui, and from previous USGS studies including 9 sites on Kauai and 59 sites on Oahu for a total of 108 sites with 265 macroinvertebrate samples. Compiled and reviewed the GIS delineated watershed variables including basin area, land use and land cover, stream length, and elevation. Developed island-specific benthic index of biotic integrity for Oahu and Maui. Completed the study.


Wolff, R.H., 2012, Development of invertebrate community indexes of stream quality for the islands of Maui and O'ahu, Hawai'i: U.S. Geological Survey Scientific Investigations Report 2012–5055, 191 p.

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