Monitoring river health using the Australian River Assessment System (AUSRIVAS)


​​​ Photograph of stoneflies in dish. The Australian River Assessment System ((AUSRIVAS) is a Nationally consistent rapid bioassessment methodology which uses aquatic macroinvertebrates as a means of assessing the ecological condition of rivers and streams. AUSRIVAS​ models have been developed to predict the macroinvertebrate fauna that would be expected to occur at a site in the absence of environmental stress such as pollution or habitat degradation. In Tasmania, this is the main tool used to examine and report on the environmental condition of rivers and streams.

The indicators

The main focus of this bioassessment approach is the sampling​ of aquatic macroinvertebrates.

Aquatic macroinvertebrates (such as insects, snails and worms) are now well recognised as powerful tools for assessing river health. They can - by their presence or absence - tell us a lot about the condition of our waterways.

Aquatic macroinvertebrates are sensitive to changes in habitat and water quality. Some species are known to have particular tolerances to environmental factors such as temperature or levels of dissolved oxygen. Other information can be obtained from the number of species found at a site (diversity), and the number of animals found at a site (abundance).

By sampling aquatic macroinvertebrates from relatively undisturbed rivers, researchers and community groups, can find out the range of species that should be present in undisturbed and unpolluted river habitats.

The basic approach to sampling and assessment

Each site is sampled using a rapid bioassessment technique. This involves collecting macroinvertebrate samples from two habitats.

Riffle Sample - A sample is taken from shallow, fast flowing areas with a stony or rocky substrate. This type of habitat is called a riffle. In order to coll​​​​ect a sample, the stream bed is disturbed by the sampler's feet and dislodged animals are s​wept into a net by the current.

Edgewater Sample - A second sample is collected ​​by sweeping the net along the edgewater or margins of the river an​d in backwaters and pools which have slow currents or no flow. Aquatic plants (macrophytes), which provide additional habitat for aquatic macroinvertebrates, are often found in these edgewater habitats and are included in the sweep sample.

Physical (vegetation and substrate composition) and chemical (water quality) properties are also measured. The aquatic macroinvertebrates are sorte​​​d on site and then taken back to the laboratory for identification.

Once the taxa within the sample have been identified and enumerated, these data – along with additional physical and chemical predictor variable data – are ready to be uploaded to the AUSRIVAS bioassessment models.

These are accessible at AUSRIVAS where details about how to prepare and enter the data are provided.

AUSRIVAS model outputs

The AUSRIVAS​​ models provide a number of river health ratings that can be used to gauge the improvements or declines in river health at a site over time. This can be useful for community groups and NRM agencies monitoring the condition of their catchments. On a broad scale the models are useful tools for river managers to assess the environmental benefit of catchment management practices.


Water Enquiries

GPO Box 44,
Hobart, TAS, 7001.