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Modelling ecological quality of urban rivers: ecotoxicological factors limiting restoration of fish populations.


Problems to be solved
The objectives of the project are to determine the ecotoxicological factors limiting restoration of sustainable fish populations in polluted urban rivers. These factors will be described and modelled for urban river systems in four European countries, Italy, Germany The Netherlands and the UK. By monitoring the conditions in each river and the natural fish population, then using caged fish to sample the environmental and biological factors that limit sustainable fish populations, the project will address the problems relating to the establishment of a standardised and validated array of bio-indicator measurements, for use in water quality surveillance and monitoring schemes, in support of environmental policies for integrated water management. A parallel sociological study of risk perception in stakeholders will provide information on peoples' perceptions and expectations with regard to water. The CEC Council have as their aim the remediation of European surface and ground waters in order that they achieve "good" ecological status by the year 2010. This project will contribute to the objectives of Key Action 1, Sustainable management and quality of water and in particular, key action 1.2 Ecological quality of freshwater ecosystems and wetlands, and specifically key action 1.2.2 Ecological quality targets.
Scientific objectives and approach
At each site, the ecological quality of the study river will be described on a seasonal basis in terms of biotic indices and chemical water quality, and related to the population biology of a resident species of coarse (tolerant) fish. Sub-lethal indicators of pollution will then be measured on fish exposed to the prevailing seasonal water conditions at each site, in floating cages. A range of biochemical indicators (biomarkers) will be used to reveal specific exposure to particular contaminants or classes of contaminants. These will include: induction of cytochrome P450 and metallothioneins; DNA damage, in terms of strand breaks; estrogenic activity (measured as vitellogenin induction); brain cholinesterase activity. Measurement of swimming performance will be used as an indicator of physiological status, revealing seasonal differences and the response to exposure to the complex changes in water chemistry, following flood spates. These measurements will be related to migration of fish within the river system, using radio tracking or tag and recapture. The immunological status of fish (e.g. macrophage activity) will be assessed, as urban waters can be subject to elevated contents of pathogenic bacteria from human waste and, furthermore, fish in poor condition as a result of pollution and other physico-chemical stresses may have compromised immune competence. Data analysis will use current methodologies for multivariate statistics to model the ecotoxicological factors limiting fish populations at the study sites, enabling the elaboration of ecological risk assessments and sensitive water quality criteria for a range of European rivers. A sociological study will be undertaken, to investigate the way that various groups of people with an interest in rivers (stakeholders) perceive the risks associated with poor ecological quality in urban rivers.
Expected impacts
The project provides community added value by bringing together a multidisciplinary spectrum of expertise and experience from various EU institutions, for the measurement and analysis of a wide range of state-of the art chemical, biochemical, physiological, and immunological indicators of sub-lethal pollution. This will introduce a valuable diversity of assessments of ecological quality, pollutant class, and environmental fluctuation that will contribute significantly to our ability to develop a generic methodology transferable to other urban rivers within Europe and elsewhere. The results will be published in the international literature and provided to local authorities (namely the National River Authority in the UK, the Regione Lombardia in Italy, the Berlin Fishery Board in Berlin). Furthermore, assay techniques for analysis of biomarkers will be standardised amongst the research centres, and measurements on sub-samples will be repeated by these different labs, in order to contribute to EU-wide standardisation of ecotoxicological assay procedures. The sociological analysis of stakeholder views on the risks posed by pollution will indicate to what degree there is likely to be interest in and compliance with the introduction of new bio indicators of pollution. The outcome of the project will be an overview of the combined technological and socio-economic factors involved in implementation of an urban river ecosystem with a sustainable population of healthy fish.

Call for proposal

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EU contribution
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United Kingdom

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Participants (5)