Biological assessment is an applied scientific discipline that uses the response of resident aquatic biological communities to various stressors as a method of evaluating ecosystem health. The Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), with an active bioassessment program, has developed several bioassessment tools used in various monitoring and regulatory applications. These bioassessment tools directly measure whether the designated aquatic life use, a “well-balanced population of fish and wildlife,” is being attained (Rule 62-302.400, Florida Administrative Code [F.A.C.]).
Bioassessment results are significant because biota inhabiting a water body function as continual natural monitors of environmental quality that are capable of detecting the effects of both episodic and cumulative water quality, hydrologic and habitat alterations. By monitoring the composition, abundance and health of these biological communities, DEP is able to determine the health of our streams, rivers, lakes and wetlands. Note that wetland bioassessment methods have not been fully validated, and estuarine and marine methods are not yet developed. Bioassessment tools are used in conjunction with physical and chemical water quality measurements to determine not only the health of a waterbody, but also the proper strategies for restoration for impaired waters.
The Stream Condition Index (SCI) and Biological Reconnaissance (BioRecon) measure the biological health of benthic macroinvertebrates in Florida streams and rivers. The Stream and River Habitat Assessment assists in data interpretation, since low SCI scores sometimes may be due to lack of sufficient habitat or physical factors, rather than impaired water quality. The Rapid Periphyton Survey (RPS) quantifies the extent and abundance of attached algae in flowing systems and indicates when it is interfering with designated uses. The Linear Vegetation Survey (LVS) characterizes the vascular plant community within the wetted channel of stream and rivers, based on the nativity and sensitivity of plants to stressors. The Lake Vegetation Index (LVI) measures the biological health of the plant communities in Florida lakes.
Any public or private entity may submit bioassessment data to DEP, as long as they follow DEP Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs), have completed any training requirements in the relevant sampling method, and have either passed an audit (SCI, BioRecon) or demonstrated proficiency in the method (Habitat Assessment, LVI). Training and testing opportunities are announced through the Quality of Science eNewsletter. Quality assurance requirements are outlined in DEP SOP FA 1000.
The Florida Department of Environmental Protection is the state’s lead agency for environmental management and stewardship – protecting our air, water and land. The vision of the Florida Department of Environmental Protection is to create strong community partnerships, safeguard Florida’s natural resources and enhance its ecosystems.