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Bioassessment Program

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 throughout the state. These bioassessment tools directly measure whether the designated aquatic life use, a “well-balanced population of fish and wildlife,” is being attained (Chapter 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, capable of detecting the effects of both episodic, as well as 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 methods are not yet fully developed. These tools are used in conjunction with physical and chemical water quality measurements to determine not only the impairment status of a waterbody, but proper strategies for restoration.

The Stream Condition Index (SCI) and Biological Reconnaissance (BioRecon) measure the biological health of macroinvertebrates in Florida streams and rivers. The Stream and River Habitat Assessment assists in data interpretation, since low SCI scores may sometimes be due to lack of sufficient habitat rather than impaired water quality. The Lake Vegetation Index (LVI) measures the biological health of the plant communities in Florida lakes. 

Any public or private entity can submit bioassessment data to DEP, as long as they have become proficient in the 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 e-Newsletter. Quality assurance requirements are outlined in DEP SOP FA1000. 

Aquatic Ecology and Quality Assurance Section

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