The use of aquatic macroinvertebrates as bio-indicators in water quality studies has increased considerably over the last decade in Costa Rica, and standard biomonitoring methods have now been formulated at the national level. Nevertheless, questions remain about the effectiveness of different methods of sampling freshwater benthic assemblages, and how sampling intensity may influence biomonitoring results. In this study, we compared the results of qualitative sampling using commonly applied methods with a more intensive quantitative approach at 12 sites in small, lowland streams on the southern Caribbean slope of Costa Rica. Qualitative samples were collected following the official protocol using a strainer during a set time period and macroinvertebrates were field-picked. Quantitative sampling involved collecting ten replicate Surber samples and picking out macroinvertebrates in the laboratory with a stereomicroscope. The strainer sampling method consistently yielded fewer individuals and families than quantitative samples. As a result, site scores calculated using the Biological Monitoring Working Party-Costa Rica (BMWP-CR) biotic index often differed greatly depending on the sampling method. Site water quality classifications using the BMWP-CR index differed between the two sampling methods for 11 of the 12 sites in 2005, and for 9 of the 12 sites in 2006. Sampling intensity clearly had a strong influence on BMWP-CR index scores, as well as perceived differences between reference and impacted sites. Achieving reliable and consistent biomonitoring results for lowland Costa Rican streams may demand intensive sampling and requires careful consideration of sampling methods. Rev. Biol. Trop. 62 (Suppl. 2): 275-289. Epub 2014 April 01.
Keywords: aquatic macroinvertebrates, sample effort, strainer, Surber, water quality, Costa Rica.