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Promoting a functional macroinvertebrate approach in the biomonitoring of Italian lotic systems

Richard W. Merritt, Stefano Fenoglio, Kenneth W. Cummins
  • Richard W. Merritt
    Michigan State University, United States
  • Kenneth W. Cummins
    Affiliation not present


Over fifty years of research on freshwater macroinvertebrates has been driven largely by the state of the taxonomy of these organisms. Significant advances have been and continue to be made in developing ever more refined keys to macroinvertebrate groups. When advances in macroinvertebrate ecological research are restricted by the level of detail in identifications, then analysis by function is a viable alternative. The focus on function, namely adaptations of macroinvertebrates to habitats and the utilization of food resources, has facilitated ecological evaluation of freshwater ecosystems. This classification is based not on what insects eat, but how they obtain their food. These categories are called 'functional feeding groups', as the name implies, denoting their functional role when describing how and where they feed. This is the basis for the functional feeding group (FFG) method that was initially developed in the early 1960s. Taxonomy is applied only to the level of detail that allows assignment to one of five functional feeding group categories: detrital shredders, scrapers, filtering collectors, gatherers, and predators. The aim of this short communication, originating from the presentation of R.W. Merritt at the Biomonitoring Symposium in Rome, 2015, is to promote the use of a functional approach in biomonitoring, especially in Italian and European lotic systems. Here, we present two case studies and we discuss the advantages of the method, especially considering the great availability of quantitative data on macroinvertebrates after the implementation of the WFD 2000/60. We are confident that the increase of functional assessment of ecosystem attributes could have important and direct repercussions in the understanding and management of running waters.


Functional Feeding Groups; ecological traits; biological traits; living stream.

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Submitted: 2016-05-12 15:03:02
Published: 2016-06-07 08:50:04
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Copyright (c) 2016 Richard W. Merritt, Stefano Fenoglio, Kenneth W. Cummins

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