Assessment of environmental and biological condition and variability (I1)

INHABIT project

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Home Themes & Results Environmental and biological condition (I1)

Assessment of environmental and biological condition and variability (I1)

This action group includes two main issues: collection of data in the field and their first analysis. On the basis of the results achieved from the group of action P, field sampling will be performed for the collection of biological, chemical and hydro-morphological data in different water bodies, belonging to two types of each of the investigated areas. Samples will be collected in reference (i.e. nearly-natural sites) and degraded sites, in different seasons. The sampling campaigns will be possibly carried out at selected sites that are part of the official monitoring network the environmental authorities in Sardinia and Piedmont have fixed, so that project results can be directly applied for further management and restoration. Nonetheless, the activities planned for the project will not be performed if the project is not funded i.e. they are additional to routine monitoring programs. As well, the biological samples collected will require a more detailed level of investigation and approach for sampling, usually not carried out for routine monitoring. The hydromorphological and nutrient data collected will be complementary to routine data collection i.e. no overlapping.
The innovative aspect of this task is linked to the simultaneous collection of biological, environmental data and hydromorphological feature for lacustrine habitat, and data that allows a detailed characterization of riverine habitats and relevant local hydro-morphological features. Even when the characterization of biological communities is consolidated (e.g. for invertebrates in rivers), the link between this community and habitat features is usually only superficially investigated, especially when the aim of the biological collection is ‘simply’ assessing ecological quality. In fact, despite the importance WFD devotes to the evaluation of hydro-morphological aspects (e.g. channel patterns, width and depth variations, flow velocities, substrate conditions, river continuity) for the interpretation of biological data, these aspects are usually neglected. This is partly linked to the un-availability of suitable methods for measuring these aspects in field. However, prior any consideration on ecological quality evaluation, a quantification of natural variability for these aspects seems fundamental for a correct classification of ecological status and the associated uncertainty (see group of actions D1). Moreover, for lakes neither the characterization of biological communities is a common practice. Therefore, as an additional result from this group of ‘innovation’ actions, a demonstration character will be ensured, because the most updated WFD-compliant methods, which were developed in Italy and thus adapted to Mediterranean and Alpine conditions and that are not at all in the common use yet, are being applied in the study catchments.
A main aim of this group of actions is to get data representative of the natural gradients observed for the selected water bodies and types. These gradients will be characterized in terms of hydro-morphological features (e.g. flow types, substrate types, presence of erosional and depositional features, habitat diversification), water quality and biological communities. Degraded sites will also be characterized, in the same way of reference sites. Conditions observed at reference sites will be compared to conditions observed at degraded sites in order to infer on the causes of degradation and to set out integrative measures (see action group I3) to facilitate good ecological status can be reached, focusing on the interaction between local hydro-morphology, habitat structure and ecological status classification. The relationships between ecological status indicators (e.g. classes and biotic metrics) and key hydro-morphological and habitat factors will be defined and used to quantify the influence of these factors (i.e. non-anthropic disturbance) on class attribution. Such relationships will be the basis for group of actions I3.
For rivers, the focal point is invertebrate and diatom community collection and analysis, since a classification system is available for these two WFD biological quality elements, and it has to be considered in RBMPs.
In the case of lakes it is important to evaluate the four biological quality elements in agreement with WFD and relate them with the hydro-morphological alteration. For instance in lakes the fluctuation of the level is an important pressure on the biological elements, and it is strictly related with the management of the lake. The evaluation of its impact and of artificial shore and riparian zone on the biological quality elements is a starting point for a correct management plan and an optimal employment of water resources.

Methods employed
River sampling - Within each region (Piemonte and Sardinia) 2 different river types will be selected for the study. For each type 3 reference sites and 9 degraded sites (covering the gradient from good to bad status, with majority of sites from good and moderate status) will be selected, according to European best practices for site selection. River invertebrate and diatom samples will be collected at each site in at least two seasons. Biological samples will be collected according to Italian and European protocols in line with WFD requirements, as defined within recent EC co-funded projects and currently undergoing CEN approval procedures. Biological samples will be quantitatively collected. In particular, the conceptual basis according to which invertebrates will be collected will follow a proportional multihabitat sampling. The characterization of hydro-morphological and habitat features of the investigated sites will be possibly performed by applying the CARAVAGGIO - Core Assessment of River hAbitat VAlue and hydro-morpholoGIcal cOndition - method. This method has been quite recently proposed to characterize highly dynamic Mediterranean rivers, and is an improvement of the UK RHS method. It allows for the collection of a large number of information related to channel and riparian habitats. Nonetheless, the final choice for the methods to be applied in the study catchments will also be based on results derived from the group of actions P, for the up-scaling process to be ensured (I3). These procedures (i.e. quantitative, multihabitat invertebrate samples and CARAVAGGIO data) have already been applied in certain geographical contexts by stakeholders but they were never concurrently applied in the context of river basin management plans. Moreover, guidelines for their application in specific river types are needed. As well, due to climatic constraints, these procedures might need adaptations for certain river types (e.g. temporary rivers), for which a collection of a different number of samples, with respect to the number of samples needed for e.g. alpine rivers, might be necessary to better discriminate between natural and anthropogenic variability. In this river types, the collection of reliable flow data can be also important. Collected data will be stored in dedicated databases: one containing biological and water quality information and another one dedicated to the storage of hydro-morphological data.
The natural variability we intend to quantify is largely linked with seasonal factors (i.e. differences between months and years). For rivers, we expect monitoring different seasons (3) will guarantee to adequately cover the (average) seasonal gradient during the duration of the project. This is especially expected to be feasible because we’ll get replicate samples from sites belonging to the same river type (e.g. ca 36x2 samples for each river type). As well, some estimates of natural variability will be derived from the comparison between different types. In addition, for rivers: overall - we’ll base also on results from other sites where the same methods were applied for other projects (i.e. space-for-time substitution, even if consequences of abrupt changes can be missed with such approach). We planned three sampling seasons because this would be most favourable to reach project aims, rather than two sampling seasons only, and we therefore intend to collect from three seasons. Nonetheless, due to possible constraints linked with seasonality and hydrological cycles - we go from alpine rivers to Mediterranean, temporary rivers – we expect we can guarantee for ‘good’ data from two sampling occasions i.e. two different seasons. In fact, even if samples from three periods will be collected, because of hydrological instability, some results from one period might eventually be considered ‘invalid samples’ for statistical analysis in case of extreme events in one season i.e. too many outliers (e.g. after flooding or droughts). In recent years, due to climate unpredictability, we experienced this problem more than once in previous projects.
Lake sampling – The evaluation of the hydro-morphological features and of the biological quality elements will be done on the two areas studied in the present project: Piemonte and Sardinia regions. Six (6) lakes will be taken into consideration in each region including reference or nearly reference sites, and modified or highly modified sites.  Natural reference and highly modified lakes will be sampled for phytoplankton, macrophytes, macroinvertebrates and fishes, while artificial lakes will be considered only for phytoplankton and fishes. Hydro-morphological features will be  investigated using the Lake Habitat Survey (LHS), developed from the Scotland and Northern Ireland Forum For Environmental Research in Edinburgh (SNIFFER) for Scottish lakes, and currently undergoing CEN approval procedures. CNR-ISE will evaluate its applicability in Southern Europe, in Italy in particular, and in case of substantial modifications, CNR-ISE will eventually promote the creation of a derived method adapted at the Italian lakes characteristics (see also P_ISE activity). Sampling biological quality elements and characterising hydro-morphological features in lakes will be carried out by the CNR-ISE.
Field campaigns will consist of 12 application of the hydromorphological method, 12 fish samplings, 12 macroinvertebrate samplings, at least 6 macrophyte sampling, 72 phytoplankton samplings and 216 chemical physical analyses.

Data storage - As a final result of field activities data will be stored in a database: two beneficiary partners (3-4) will be responsible for compiling a database, according to a common format that will be provided by coordinating beneficiary (IRSA) for rivers and from associated beneficiary ISE (beneficiary number 2) for lakes. Data will be entered in database after each sampling period and sent to IRSA (rivers) or ISE (lakes) within three months from the conclusion of the relevant field activities. Finally, all data will be made available to IRSA (coordinating beneficiary).
Data analysis – Hydro-morphological and water quality data will be analyzed in order to provide information to quantify degradation at water bodies, so that a reliable classification can be obtained (i.e. support to pressure analysis and class boundaries setting procedures, see also D3 actions). Moreover, hydro-morphological data will be directly linked to the information supplied by the biological surveys, e.g. through a habitat characterisation at a larger scale than biological sampling. For rivers, hydro-morphological  data will be also used to classify the investigated sites according to their lentic-lotic character, so that the actual reliability of biological methods being used in ecological status classification can be tested with regard to this aspect. As well, a classification of morphological degradation will be provided for all sites.
Reports prepared by individual partners to be merged and integrated by the responsible beneficiary will be submitted two months before the deadline for the presentation of the relevant project Deliverable.
Simple models will be elaborated (e.g. regression models) in order to evaluate which are the driving factors for biological communities. Not only the data collected within the LIFE project but also data already available at CNR will be analyzed, especially to assist for the up-scaling process. It is supposed that this analysis will be based on at least 200 samples from 60 sites from 5 river types and nearly 400 samples from 20 lake ecosystems from 4 different lake types. Results of these analyses will be included in the deliverables I1d4 and I1d5.
A summary in English will be included in all Deliverables. If requested, some selected Deliverables can be prepared in English too.

Obtained results

  • Rivers – Selection of sampling stations
    The selection of river stretches to be investigated has been partially carried on the basis of the preliminary field inspections. Selected sampling stations present peculiar characteristics in terms of habitat conditions and/or morphological alterations. 
  • Rivers – Field campaigns in Piedmont
    In Piedmont 18 river stations have been selected and investigated in two seasons in 2011, plus a reference site sampled in Lombardy. The two sampling campaigns have been carried out in February/March (first campaign) and May/July (second campaign).
  • Rivers – Field campaigns in Sardinia
    In Sardinia a first  field campaign has been performed in May 2011. 28 stations have been investigated in this first survey. As mentioned, main aim of the campaign was to investigate the effects of different habitat conditions and peculiar morphological alterations, along a wide gradient of impact. On the basis of the results obtained in the first field campaign, a second field survey has been performed in Sardinia in March 2013 (16 additional sampling stations).
  • Rivers – Data collection activities
    In all sampling stations, experimental activities have considered the following elements: benthic invertebrates, diatoms, water samples for chemico-physical analysis and habitat characterization through CARAVAGGIO method. The experiment of nutrient addition has been performed in Sardinia in 13 out of 28 sites in the first campaign (May 2011) and in 10 sites in the second campaign (March 2013); in Piedmont the experiment has been undertook in 6 out of 18 sites and in the single reference site in Lombardy. Nutrient addition reach was partially overlapping biological sampling site. Habitat survey has been performed on a 500m river reach located predominantly upstream (i.. (8/10) of the biological sampling site.
  • Rivers – Databases
    The availability of a database containing information on benthic macroinvertebrates, chemico-physical variables and habitat and local hydromorphological features is a preparatory step towards the activities specifically dedicated to data processing.
  • Rivers – Reference sites validation
    Reference sites are a key element of the classification process, according to WFD. Reference sites are always included in monitoring plans. They are preliminary selected in river reaches as much as possible not affected by alterations, on the basis of all available information and any possible inspections. Potential reference sites are validated according to a national standard procedure. INHABIT project has provided an important contribution to WFD implementation in Italy by verifying, from the abiotic point of view, 16 reference sites in Sardinia and 6 reference sites in Piedmont.
  • Rivers – Variability in hydro-morphological and physicochemical conditions and their influence on aquatic community
    In this activity gradients observed in considered water bodies and river types are described. Gradients are characterized in terms of habitat features (e.g. flow and substrate type, habitat diversity, erosional and depositional characters, characteristics of channel and banks), water quality and biological communities (benthic invertebrates and diatoms). Reference sites and impacted sites are investigated according to the same approach. For reference sites the variability of the considered characteristics is assumed as due to natural processes, while variability observed in impacted sites may include the effect of anthropogenic alterations. The most important results for this activity have dealt with the validation of reference sites and biological validation of river types for the studied areas.
  • Lakes – results I1
    Within this action group, sampling and analysis of hydromorphological characteristics and habitats were carried out in the chosen lakes, verifying their suitability in lakes with different biological and hydromorphological characteristics (in the Alpine and Mediterranean areas) and subject to different pressures and impacts: natural oligotrophic or eutrophic lakes, reservoirs for different uses (drinking water, agricultural, hydropower), also in terms of sampling protocols (frequency, spatial and temporal distribution of sampling) and their effects on the ecological classification .
    National sampling protocols were testes to verify the possibility of reducing sampling effort without affecting the result of the classification. In addition, all collected data, both hydromorphological and biological, have been structured in dedicated databases described in specific deliverables.

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