STREAM (Sequencing The Rivers for Environmental Assessment and Monitoring) is a community-based project that involves the collection of bulk DNA samples to enhance our understanding of the health of river systems across Canada.

STREAM generates DNA-based data on benthic macroinvertebrates—the community of small bugs that live in the substrate of rivers and streams. These organisms are collected according to STREAM’s Field Manual, which has been developed based on Canadian Aquatic Biomonitoring Network (CABIN) protocols. 

Why benthic macroinvertebrates?

Benthic macroinvertebrates are sensitive to a variety of physical and environmental disturbances. This makes them an ideal target group for determining the health status of local aquatic environments.

Left to right: Flatheaded mayfly larvae, green sedge caddisfly larvae, and golden stonefly larvae. These species are macroinvertebrates known to be sensitive to changes in environmental conditions. (C) Chloe Robinson

A technology called DNA metabarcoding is used to analyze and characterize DNA from benthic samples. This DNA is compared to known DNA barcode libraries to identify organisms that are present in the sample. STREAM investigates the potential for DNA metabarcoding in routine biological monitoring to assess freshwater health. DNA metabarcoding has the potential to:

  • Provide faster turnaround times for results, given the greater capacity to analyze samples in bulk
  • Be a more cost-effective option compared to morphological taxonomic identification 
  • Provide more accurate, enhanced biodiversity information
Watch the video below to follow the journey of a STREAM sample:

A community-based monitoring project

This Canada-wide project is led by the Hajibabaei Lab at the University of Guelph’s Centre for Biodiversity Genomics. Founded in 2019, STREAM is a partnership between Living Lakes CanadaEnvironment and Climate Change Canada, the University of Guelph, and community groups. 

Participants from groups such as non-profits, Indigenous communities, researchers, conservation authorities, and other organizations are recruited and trained to collect samples from their local rivers and streams. To understand the health status of freshwater systems, we first need to understand the natural fluctuations and trends of benthic macroinvertebrate communities—especially in locations that are data-deficient or locations with no prior data. Collaborating with communities allows STREAM to access watersheds that are data-deficient and allows us to generate sufficient data to assess and monitor the ecological status of watersheds across Canada.


The STREAM project is funded in part by Illumina Inc Foundation and Environment and Climate Change Canada to support the University of Guelph in providing sample analysis for participants.