General context

INHABIT project

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General context

The study of habitat in river and lake water bodies is a key issue in the understanding of biological responses to any kind of environment alteration. The use of habitat information is also crucial for evaluating the effectiveness of water bodies management, protection and restoration measures, such as those reported in WFD Management Plans.

Habitat variability observed in a given water body and the resulting differences in their occurrence, type and quality, may lead to significant changes in the biological community. These variations can overlap with those induced by changes in the ecosystem due to human activities.

Description and quantification of habitat features are therefore crucial to understand biological communities structure and to interpret the response of aquatic organisms to disturbance factors, either due to natural variability or to human activities.

In other words, quantity and quality of habitats exert a strong influence on structure and function of ecosystems - and inhabiting community; at the same time, this has an effect on indicators and biological metrics used to evaluate, for example, WFD 'Ecological Status' of water bodies.

This has some important consequences.

  • On one hand, being effects of changes in habitat – also of natural origin – recognizable, they can also be, with the help of suitable indicators, measurable.
  • On the other hand, for an effective evaluation of ecological status, we are required to separate the effects on biocoenoses induced by natural variations in habitat from the actual impacts due to human activities (hydrological or morphological alterations, land use, water pollution, etc.). 
  • Additionally, in support of the two previous points, it is necessary to better understand the relations between habitat and biotic communities, in order to select dedicated indicators, and to combine – in a direct and clear way – the use of biological and abiotic information.

Further details are available in Deliverable D1d5.