Christopher J Walsh, Michael J Sammonds, Joshphar Kunapo
School of Ecosystem and Forest Sciences, The University of Melbourne, 500 Yarra Boulevard, Burnley Victoria 3121, Australia
Citation (for this report and for the use of any data downloaded from https://tools.thewerg.unimelb.edu.au/mwbugs/)
Walsh, C.J., Sammonds, M.J., Kunapo, J. (2020) The Melbourne Water macroinvertebrate database. Melbourne Waterway Research-Practice Partnership Report 20.1. School of Ecosystem and Forest Sciences, The University of Melbourne, Melbourne. URL: https://tools.thewerg.unimelb.edu.au/mwbugs/.
Melbourne Water’s investment in biological monitoring and ecological research since 1994 has generated a large set macroinvertebrate assemblage records from streams of the Greater Melbourne region. This rich resource of biological information has been used in many ecological studies and has underpinned the management of Melbourne’s streams. We have collated the data into a database with an open-access web interface (https://tools.thewerg.unimelb.edu.au/mwbugs/), and we aim to update it as new data are generated, so that the data can be used to further advance ecological understanding and stream management strategies.
This document describes the structure of the database and its web interface; how to use them; and quality control protocols for adding data to the database. We have also developed a data-entry app (https://tools.thewerg.unimelb.edu.au/bugDataEntry/) for preparation of biological data for the database.
The new database advances on previous versions by being publicly available and searchable. It includes new data and corrects errors. It uses new site and sample-coding that integrates the data with new stream and catchment data (https://tools.thewerg.unimelb.edu.au/mwstr/), and more effectively captures differences in collection and processing methods.
The structure of taxonomic tables have been completely revised, allowing for easier adaptation to taxonomic revisions, and for the arrival of data using identifications from genetic analyses.
Melbourne Water (MW) have been investing in biological monitoring and ecological research using stream macroinvertebrate assemblage composition since 1994. The resulting body of data is a rich resource of information on the biodiversity, ecology, and condition of Melbourne’s streams, which has been used in many studies that have advanced stream ecology and has provided a strong evidence base for decisions on the management of Melbourne’s streams. The data set has strong potential to contribute to further advances and to future management strategies. By collating the data into a database with an open-access web interface, we aim to maximise that potential.
The database includes macroinvertebrate assemblage composition data collected in the Melbourne Region since 1993. Most of the data were collected as part of monitoring projects commissioned by MW. The database also includes data collected from many research projects, most of which were, at least in part, funded by MW, and some data collected by the Victorian Environmental Protection Authority (EPA Victoria) in the region.
MW’s biological monitoring program began in 1994 as the Streamwatch program with the aim of “using biological indicators (aquatic macroinvertebrates) to determine the health of streams throughout the Port Phillip and Westernport region, including determining broad-scale changes in the longer-term (5-20 years) based on infrequent surveys” (Butcher 2003).
The program began at a high point of interest in using macroinvertebrate assemblage composition as a biological indicator of stream health (Norris & Norris 1995). It co-incided with an expansion of the statewide monitoring program of the EPA, which led to biological objectives for the rivers and streams of Victoria (EPA Victoria 2004) to support the State Environment Protection Policy (Government of Victoria 2004). In 1994 and 1995, the efforts of MW’s and EPA Victoria’s biological monitoring programs and a research study by the Cooperative Research Centre for Freshwater Ecology (CRCFE, Walsh et al. 2001) led to 173 sites being sampled across the region in that year alone, including 30 sites being sampled independently by different sampling teams within weeks of each other. Since that enthusiastic start, monitoring expenditure has been lower and generally better co-ordinated.
Since then, MW’s annual monitoring program has continued will little interruption, albeit with occasional changes in focus and rationale. In most years since 1994, ~50 sites have been sampled using rapid bioassessment methods as part of the core monitoring program, with a largely different selection of sites each year. In the first decade, each year’s monitoring results were recorded in technical reports (Smith, Vertessy & Hardwick 1997; Hardwick & Lewin 1999; Hardwick & Waller 1999a; Papas, Nicol & Crowther 2000; Crowther, Canale & Papas 2001; Papas et al. 2002; Crowther, Papas & MacKay 2003; WSL 2004, 2005). From 2005, data from the monitoring program were delivered without formal reports.
In addition to the core monitoring program, monitoring studies of individual rivers or regions were conducted during the first decade: Diamond and Stony Creeks (Cameron & Vertessy 1995, 1999); Woori Yallock Creek (1997-1998, no report fond); Watts River (Coleman & Pettigrove 1998a); Andersons and Jumping Creeks (Coleman & Pettigrove 1998b); Dandenong Valley streams (Pettigrove & Coleman 1999); Lang Lang River (Coleman & Pettigrove 2001); Westernport and Mornington Peninsula streams (Hardwick 1998); Plenty River (Hardwick & Waller 1999b); Merri and Darebin Creeks (AWT 1999); Moonee Ponds Creek (2000, no report found); streams of the Werribee catchment (2005, no report found); streams of the Maribyrnong catchment (2006-2007, no report found).
From 2006 on, the monitoring program concentrated more on repeated monitoring of sites aimed at addressing specific concerns such as: continued monitoring of the near-pristine sites of the upper Yarra catchment (including two sites that had been sampled annually by EPA Victoria until that time); change in condition in sites downstream of urban growth areas in the Merri and Toomuc catchments, and of the experimental catchments of Little Stringybark and Dobsons Creek (see below); recovery of streams following bushfires; and repeated monitoring of several focus sites across the region. In 2018, a formal sampling design aiming to sample across primary environmental gradients in the region (rainfall, urban land use, and forest cover) was employed to permit a comparison of traditional sampling and processing methods with emerging genetic methods (Walsh 2018).
Melbourne Water also conducted studies addressing particular management questions, such as: the effects of resnagging in the Little Yarra River (McCasker 2002; Coleman 2006) and Eummemmering Creek (2003, no report found); supporting the Woori Yallock streamflow management plan (2013, no macroinvertebrate-specific report found); the management of environmental flows from the Merrimu Reservoir (Walsh, Bloink & Hehir 2014); and a broad-scale assessment of the capital works program from 2006 to 2015 (Water Technology, GHD & Streamline Research 2014).
In addition to all of the above monitoring data collected by MW, the database includes data collected from 1992 to 2009 by EPA Victoria from 239 sites across the region as part of their statewide monitoring program.
The database also includes data collected as part of research programs conducted in the region: the CRCFE projects ‘Biological Assessment of Urban Streams’ (Walsh et al. 2001), experimental assessment of riffle restoration in urban streams [Walsh & Breen (2001); further publication in preparation], the Yarra River ecological study (Walsh et al. 2007), assessment of the effects of stormwater treatment wetlands on stream ecology (Walsh 2004a); assessment of urban stormwater impacts on small stream ecosystems (Walsh 2004b, 2006). This last project led to the long-term monitoring of 11 sites on 7 streams to assess the effects of urban stormwater drainage retrofit on the stream health of Dobsons Creek, and Little Stringybark Creek and its tributaries [Walsh et al. (2015); with further papers in preparation]. Associated with that project was a study of longitudinal variation in assemblage composition along streams of varying urban impact (White 2018), and an experiment on how urban impacts diminish the biodiversity benefit of increasing habitat complexity in streams (White & Walsh 2020).
Melbourne Water’s data was first compiled into a central database in 2002 (Walsh & McCasker 2002). GHD managed the database until 2018. This report details the compilation of a revised database that:
includes data not previously included; corrects errors; revises the site and sample-coding to integrate the data with new stream and catchment data (Kunapo, Walsh & Sammonds 2019) and more effectively capture differences in collection and processing methods;
revises the storage of taxonomic data in preparation for new data using identifications from genetic analyses; and
is publicly available, including through a searchable web-interface.
The aims of this document are to:
Describe the structure of the database, including instructions on how to use it;
Describe quality control protocols used to enter data into the database (the database is an active resource, and will be updated as new data are generated);
Describe the web interface for the database.
Three tables constitute the core of the database (Fig. 1):
The sites table lists every sampled site, identified by a unique sitecode;
The samples table lists every sample taken at each site, identified by a unuique samplecode;
The biota table lists every taxon and its abundance identified from each sample.
Two additional tables are used to organize differences in collection methods and processing methods among samples, and a third is used to group samples by the primary project for which they were collected, with links to project reports (Fig. 1). Earlier versions of the database used a single taxonomic table with unique taxoncodes to link to the biota table. We use a different approach to taxonomy in this version of the database, as detailed below.