Improvement in the ecological quality of rivers may not be reflected in the recovery of biodiversity

An international study with the participation of Maria João Feio, researcher at the Center for Marine and Environmental Sciences (MARE) at the Faculty of Science and Technology of the University of Coimbra (FCTUC), published in Nature Ecology & Evolution, concluded that the progress observed in the ecological quality of some European rivers, between 1990 and 2010, is not consistently reflected in the improvement of biodiversity, measured by species richness.

«Species richness is a metric that, in general, reflects anthropogenic impacts of rivers. However, on a European scale, we observe mixed responses, such as situations in which increased wealth does not necessarily translate into better ecological quality», explains Maria João Feio, co-author of the study, revealing that «this can happen when there is, for example, an increase in tolerant species and also non-native species, which leads to an increase in richness, but reflects anthropogenic degradation».


For this reason, the professor at the Department of Life Sciences (DCV) at FCTUC, considers «it is necessary to invest in regular and standardized monitoring of aquatic communities in rivers (bioindicators), by experts, which includes a good identification of invertebrate species, the detailed analysis of a large set of metrics and aspects of community composition, abundances of each species, as well as their functions in the ecosystem, so that later, it is possible to effectively examine how communities evolved depending on the effects of changes anthropogenic, climatic or recovery measures».

In this research, after organizing a common European-wide database, 1,365 aquatic invertebrate communities from more than two dozen European countries were analyzed.

«We studied the evolution of anthropogenic changes over time, using different metrics, which are normally used to assess the biodiversity and ecological quality of rivers, namely abundance, richness of taxa (or species), evenness or composition of communities and indices of biological quality (Ecological Quality Ratios), the latter standardized in the European Community and used by official environmental and water agencies to monitor rivers», concludes the MARE researcher.

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