This report describes the variability in family-level benthic-invertebrate population data and the reliability of the data as a water-quality indicator for 11 fixed surface-water sites in the Western Lake Michigan Drainages study area of the National Water-Quality Assessment Program. Benthic-invertebrate-community measures were computed for the following: number of individuals, Hilsenhoff's Family-Level Biotic Index, number and percent EPT (Ephemeroptera, Plecoptera, and Tricoptera), Margalef's Diversity Index, and mean tolerance value. Relations between these measures and environmental setting, habitat, and of chemical water quality are examined.
Benthic-invertebrate communities varied greatly among fixed sites and within individual streams among multiple-reach and multiple-year sampling. The variations between multiple reaches and years were sometimes larger than those found between different fixed sites. Factors affecting benthic invertebrates included both habitat and chemical quality. Generally, fixed-site streams with the highest diversity, greatest number of benthic invertebrates, and those at which community measures indicated the best water quality also had the best habitat and chemical quality.
Variations among reaches are most likely related to differences in habitat. Variations among years are most likely related to climatic changes, which create variations in flow and/or chemical quality. The variability in the data analyzed in this study shows how benthic invertebrates are affected by differences in both habitat and water quality, making them useful indicators of stream health; however, a single benthic-invertebrate sample alone cannot be relied upon to accurately describe water quality of the streams in this study. Benthic- invertebrate data contributed valuable information on the biological health of the 11 fixed sites when used as one of several data sources for assessing water quality.