Practical of aquatic ecology
Learning outcomes of the course unit
The course is offered to students of the Master's Degree and it aims to transfer cultural and practical tools for the analysis of main abiotic and biological components of aquatic environments (waters, sediments, macrophytes, macroinvertebrates, and fish). Particular attention will be paid to current legislation aimed at protecting water resources (e.g. Water Framework Directive, 2000/60, WFD, and derived Italian regulations). At the end of the course, students will be able to work in the field and in a chemical and biological laboratory, in order to identify representative sampling sites, to make correct water and sediment collections, to prepare and analyse samples correctly, to apply different chemical and biological quality indices and to interpret them critically.
Six main training objectives are proposed: 1) acquisition of the basic notions regarding the strategies for the protection of the water resource pursuant to the WFD and derived Italian regulations; 2) properly prepare the sampling design for different environmental matrices; 3) learn to use field instruments for direct measurements in the environment, and for sampling and pre-treatment of samples; 4) work in a chemical laboratory through the learning of safety regulations, reagent management, application of simple spectrophotometric methods; 5) calculate chemical and biological quality indexes; 6) critically interpret the data provided by indices.
Course contents summary
The course has two primary objectives: to introduce the legislative references that are the base for water body monitoring plans, and to teach the correct application of the official chemical and biological quality indices in inland water environments. The course teaches the official techniques of sampling and analyzing water, sediments, macrophytes, macroinvertebrates and fish, and the formulation of chemical, biological and ecological indices, and their meaning. The student must have as reference the functioning processes of aquatic ecosystems and the multiple relationships between environment and organisms.
The course has a strong practical / experimental character, and it is organized in 4 modules. Module 1: (6h) Introduction and analysis of the reference legislation for the monitoring of inland water bodies; Module 2: (8h) Elements for sampling, treatment and analysis of waters. Module 3: (8h) Elements for sampling, treatment and analysis of sediments. Module 4: (16h) Elements for sampling and analysis and indexing of biocoenoses (macrophytes, macroinvertebrates, and fish).
Module 1: Introduction to the reference regulations aimed at the protection of water resources (e.g. Water Framework Directive, 2000/60, WFD, and derived national regulations) and of the derived monitoring programs; definition of the status of implementation of water body quality objectives, state of the art related to Italy and the Emilia Romagna Region.
Module 2: Criteria for water sampling; sampling tools, multi-parameter probes, sample storage, separation of particulate material. Analysis of dissolved gases, of the main anions and cations, of phytoplankton chlorophyll and of suspended solids. Water quality indices: calculation, meaning and application.
Module 3. Criteria for sediment sampling; sampling tools, sample storage, analysis of sediment macro-descriptors (colour, horizons, density, porosity, organic matter). Role of sediments in shallow aquatic environments: measurement of mineralization processes (oxygen demand, total respiration, denitrification) and nutrient recycling.
Module 4. Criteria for sampling biocenoses, with particular reference to biotic communities of lotic water bodies, specifically: macrophytes, macroinvertebrates, and fish. Macrophytes: definition of representative transects, dimensioning of sampling efforts, conservation of samples and recognition by taxonomic keys. Macrophytes and eutrophication, the structuring role of macrophytes for aquatic environments: biogeochemical implications, for the chemical quality of water and sediments and for macroinvertebrates and fish communities. Macroinvertebrates: definition of representative sites, dimensioning of sampling efforts, sorting and storage of samples. Reading and taxonomical keys in field and in laboratory. Macroinvertebrates and biomonitoring, quality indices of aquatic environments, limits and perspectives. Macroinvertebrates and facilitation: nutrient cycling and implications for primary producers. Fish: definition of the representative transects, definition of representative transects, dimensioning of sampling efforts, recognition of organisms in the field for the analysis of community structure. Fish fauna and biomonitoring, quality indices of aquatic environments based on the fish community, importance of exotic species in the functioning of aquatic environments. The course closes with a summary lesson and discussion of limits and advantages offered by the various components (abiotic and biotic) analyzed, specifically with regard to the indices tested.
4 lecture notes are available for students, one for each module, as well as the official IRSA-CNR handbooks for chemical water analysis methods and guidelines for bioindication using macrofauna, macrophytes, and fish. The material will be provided by the teacher in electronic format at the beginning of the course.
The teaching organization consists of four lectures focusing on the general presentation of the course (which includes the distribution of teaching material), the discussion of module 1, the introduction to the subsequent modules, and the final lesson of the course. The laboratory activities are aimed at the characterization of the abiotic matrices (water and sediment), the field activities are aimed at the sampling of the different matrices (abiotic and biotic) and for environmental measurements with portable instruments (multiprobe).
Assessment methods and criteria
Attendance at lectures, field and laboratory activities is a pre-requisite for being admitted to the final exam, similarly the level of participation in the activities, and the compilation of field and laboratory reports are subject to evaluation by the teacher. A maximum of 25% absences (approx. 1 module) is permitted, only for serious reasons to be justified in an adequate manner by students. The evaluation of participation in the activities contributes 30% of the final grade. At the end of the course, the student must take a test (21 questions) with multiple answers. The vote of the test contributes to 70% of the final grade. The final grade is thirty; the minimum grade is 18, the maximum 30, the possible praise is assigned only to the students who during the course have actively participated in the workshops and field trips.