INTEGRATED ANALYSIS OF AQUATIC ECOSYSTEMS FOR MANAGEMENT AND RESTORATION PROGRAMS
Learning outcomes of the course unit
This course aims at introducing students to the structural and functional characteristics of freshwater ecosystems. Special attention is paid to the relationships between abiotic and biotic factors to understand the ecological processes, functioning and baseline variability of freshwater ecosystems, and evaluate the effects of different types of disturbances in order to define conservation, mitigation and restoration programs.
At the end of the course students are able to work in the field and in chemical and biological laboratories, to identify representative sites, to correctly perform sampling acrtivities, to treat the collected samples, to apply different chemical and biological quality indices and to interpret them critically. The following major educational objectives are proposed:
- be able to assess the effects of different types of disturbances and to plan actions for conservation, mitigation and recovery of water resources;
- learn about techniques aimed at restoring the quality and functioning of aquatic ecosystems and the ecological evaluation of their effectiveness;
- aquire knowledge on EU and national regulations concerning the management of water resources;
- be able to define the reference conditions to establish restoration objectives for water resources;
- define a sampling design of different environmental matrices;
- assess the role of biodiversity in inland waters and recommend strategies for its conservation;
- learning to use field instruments for direct measurements in the environment, sampling and pre-treatment of samples;
- how to operate in a chemical laboratory being aware of safety regulations, management of chemicals, application of potentiometric, spectrophotometric and chromatography methods;
- autonomously calculate chemical and biological quality indexes from collected or literature data;
- critically interpret the results of an index.
Before attending this course, students must have completed basic ecology courses and possess a background information on aquatic ecology. It is strongly recommended to attend and pass the Ecology of inland waters exam before taking the Integrated analysis of aquatic ecosystems for management and restoration programs exam.
Course contents summary
The course is organized in two modules. Each module includes 3 ECTS of frontal lessons (16 hours) and 1 ECTS of laboratory (15 hours). Any changes to the teaching methods due to the protracted COVID-19 emergency will be communicated before the course starts.
Module 1: general part
Socio-economic aspects related to the use of aquatic resources. Definitions and assessment of the ecosystem functioning, reference information for planning environmental restoration measures, operational strategies. Legislative aspects concerning management and conservation of freshwater ecosystems. Quality indexes and indicators for lakes and rivers. Review of recovery and mitigation techniques applied to aquatic ecosystems and ecological assessment of their effectiveness. Elements of conservation strategies of freshwater habitats and their biodiversity.
Module 2: laboratory
Presentation and discussion of case studies on management and restoration of aquatic ecosystems.
Module 2: monitoring of lotic and lentic environments
In this module, various methods to assess the chemical and biological quality of inland water ecosystems, both lotic and lentic, are proposed at a theoretical and practical level. Lectures are complemented by field and laboratory activities in which water samples, sediments, macrophytes, macroinvertebrates and fish are collected and analyzed. From the obtained data, chemical and biological quality indices are calculated. Students must have as reference the basis of functioning of aquatic ecosystems and the multiple relationships between environment and organisms. Lectures are organized in 5 sections:
1. (4h) Elements of sampling, treatment and water analysis; calculation of the LIM index.
2. (3h) Elements of sampling, treatment and analysis of sediments. Calculation of the respiratory quotient, denitrification efficiency and phosphorus retention capacity.
3. (3h) Elements of sampling, analysis and applications of macroinvertebrate community indices.
4. (3h) Elements of sampling, analysis and applications of macrophyte indices.
5. (3h) Elements for sampling, analysis and and applications of fish indices.
The practical lessons are organized in 5 sections too. Sampling activities and sample analysis are carried out at the Fontanili di Viarolo and at the laboratories of Podere Ambolana, respectively.
1. (3h) Calibration of a multiparameter probe, measurement of flow rate by current meter, spectrophotometric analysis of reactive phosphorus, analysis of iron by atomic absorption, analysis of anions and cations by ion chromatography.
2. (3h) Sampling of intact cores, measurement of oxygen penetration and bacterial respiration. Sediment extrusion and measurement of density, porosity, water and organic matter content.
3. (3h) Collection of macrofauna samples and field and lab taxonomic identification.
4. (3h) Field sampling and analysis of macrophytes.
5 (3h) Fish sampling by electrofishing, field taxonomic identification.
1. Water as a resource
Quantitative aspects. Water distribution on planet earth. Hydrological cycles on a global scale. Main surface- and groundwater supply sources. Water resources: current availability and future scenarios. Demand and prevalent uses of water resources. Effects of climate change on quantity and quality of water resources.
2. Anthropological, sociological and political aspects
Inland waters and society. Freshwater ecosystem services. International conferences on water: water as a basic human “need”, rather than a “right”. Public water vs private water. Water wars.
3. Management of aquatic ecosystems
Reference framework, problems, evaluation methods and application of restoration techniques. Regulatory framework: European directives (Nitrates, Urban Waste Water Treatment, Water Framework Directive, Floods) and national laws (in particular, Law 183/89, Law 36/94, Legislative Decree 152/99). Water Protection Plan. Hydrological Setting Plan. Integrated management of aquatic resources at the watershed scale (river basin plan). Organization of integrated water services, optimal territorial area. Management bodies. National Strategy for Adaptation to Climate Change and National Adaptation Plan. Current status and vulnerability of Italian inland water ecosystems in relation to local pressures and climate change. Open issues:
- nitrate contamination
- emerging contaminants: the case of Gliphosate, active principles of drugs, micro- and nano-plastics
- morphological alteration of water bodies
- variability of the hydrological regime: hydrological intermittence
- regulation of flow in rivers fed by alpine lakes
- changes in lake thermal conditions: oligomixis and meromixis
- impacts of alien species
4. Evaluation methods
Water footprint. NANI, NAPI, N and P Soil System Budget. Trophic state criteria and nutrient loading criteria in lakes. Carlson Index (TSI). Fixed and open-boundary systems. OECD indices. Vollenweider models. Biological monitoring of lentic and lotic environments: an historical overview. Indices for assessing quality status and functioning of rivers.
5. Business As Usual
Water supply: artificial reservoirs, regulation of large lakes, temporary water withdrawals. Multiple uses of river systems: river damming for water supply, hydroelectric power generation, inland navigation.
6. Green Oriented Business
Adaptive decision-making process based on scientific evidence. DPSIR scheme as dynamic and integrated decision-making process. Scientific Decision Support System (DSS). Ex ante and ex post evaluation of restoration projects: which indicators matter?
1. Water sampling
Criteria for the selection of water sampling sites; sampling tools, multi-parameter probes, sample storage, filtration for the separation of particulate material. Analysis of dissolved gas, of the main anions and cations, of phytoplankton chlorophyll and of suspended solids. Application of the LIM index of water quality: data selection, calculation, meaning and use.
2. Sampling of sediments
Criteria for sediment sampling; sampling tools, sediment storage, analysis of sediment macrodescriptors (color, horizons, density, porosity, organic matter content). Role of sediments in shallow aquatic environments: measurement of mineralization processes (oxygen demand, total respiration, denitrification) and nutrient recycling.
3. Sampling of benthic macroinvertebrates
Criteria for sampling macroinvertebrates: definition of representative sites, dimensioning of the sampling effort, sorting and storage of samples. Sorting of samples and macrofauna identification and count in the field and in the laboratory. Macroinvertebrates and biomonitoring, quality indexes of aquatic environments, limits and perspectives. Macroinvertebrates and facilitation: nutrient cycling and implications for primary producers.
4. Sampling of macrophytes
Criteria for the sampling of macrophytes: definition of representative transects, dimensioning of the sampling effort, conservation and identification of collected samples. 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.
5. Sampling of fish
Criteria for sampling fish: definition of representative transects, identification of the sampling effort, identification and measurements of collected organisms and field measurements for the analysis of the community structure. Fish fauna and biomonitoring, quality indexes of aquatic environments based on the fish community, importance of exotic species in the functioning of aquatic environments.
Reading materials (e.books, scientific papers, reports, technical manuals) are provided by the teachers and uploaded on the Elly Platform.
European Environment Agency. 2018. European waters Assessment of status and pressures 2018. 85 pp.
Sabater S., A. Elosegi (Eds). 2013. River conservation: challenges and opportunities. Fundación BBVA, 399 pp.
Viaroli P. (Ed.). 2014. Stato attuale e tendenze evolutive negli ecosistemi di acque interne e di transizione in Italia. Biologia Ambientale 28(2):3-111.
Regular class lectures and seminar activities. Analysis and discussion of case studies. Field and laboratory practices. Any changes to the teaching methods due to the protracted COVID-19 emergency will be communicated in due time.
Assessment methods and criteria
Attendance at lectures, field and laboratory activities is a pre-requisite for being admitted to the final exam, since the level of participation in the activities, the contribution to the discussion of case studies, as well as field and lab protocol management are subject to evaluation by teachers. The level of preparation of the student is verified by a written exam. Any changes to the exam procedures due to the continuation of the COVID-19 emergency will be communicated in due time.