Optimization of river restoration for biodiversity and ecosystem services

Vergleichende Ansicht der Emscher:
Vergleichende Ansicht der Emscher: linke Seite in degradiertem Zustand bei Dinslaken, rechte Seite in renaturiertem Zustand bei Dortmund-Deusen.

Funded by: Bauer-Stiftung zur Förderung von Wissenschaft und Forschung, Rudolf and Helene Glaser Foundation.
Project period: 2017-2020

Rivers are hotspots of biodiversity and provide important ecosystem services (ES). Nevertheless, many of the European freshwaters are in a particularly “bad state” based on the Water Framework Directive assessment. Inland waters, and particularly rivers, have undergone anthropogenic alterations which have led to loss of ecological value in the form of ecosystem biodiversity and functioning. Although in the last few years efforts have been made to ecologically restore watercourses and floodplains, the ecological effectiveness of these actions has been very limited or not properly evaluated. A lack of understanding of ecological river processes and spatio-temporal dynamics of river communities and ecosystems is likely the main cause. Therefore, an increase of the ecological knowledge of river restoration become fundamental in order to be able to both perform and evaluate restoration actions in a proper standardized manner.

The current project has, therefore, the main goal to systematically investigate and determine the characteristics of renaturation measures that lead to a sustainable increase in biodiversity and ECS. From this, evaluation and prioritisation strategies for increasing the effectiveness of restoration are developed and tested including:

  • What is the role of ecological traits in river ecosystems after a restoration event? Analysis of the potential of implementing ecological traits to assess river restoration outcomes from 134 restoration riverine projects conducted in Switzerland, Germany and Finland. This research has been recently published in the international Journal Science of the Total Environment (link to publication:  https://doi.org/10.1016/j.scitotenv.2019.01.330) (Dr. Alessandro Manfrin).
  • What is the role of lateral connectivity in river restoration? Analysis of the role of lateral connectivity in restoration is conducted using fish data collected from the "Arbeitsgemeinschaft Biologischer Umweltschutz" in the district of Soest e.V. (ABU) across the complete gradient of lateral connectivity, since 1993 (Dr. Alessandro Manfrin).
  • Do a series of renaturation projects carried out in a spatial vicinity increase the effectiveness of restoration? Fish taxonomic and ecological trait data collected in proximal waterbodies (e.g. Nidda, Rur and Lippe) are analysed to test the hypothesis that synergistic effects of proximal multiple restorations leads to an overall better restoration success. This, so far, although frequently hypothesized, has never been confirmed by a scientific study (Dr. Alessandro Manfrin).
  • A scenario-based forecasting tool for estimation of renaturation success (SPARE) is developed and applied by combining a species distribution model (SDM) and a dispersion model (Heiko Schmidt).
  • Systematic study of the effects of restoration on the provision of ES and its relationship to biodiversity (Nina Kaiser)

Project members: Dr. Alessandro Manfrin, Nina Kaiser, Heiko Schmidt

Reintroduction of allis shad in the river Rhein

transverse section of a juvenile otolith of allis shad.


Funded by: HIT-Umweltstiftung, Ministerium für Umwelt, Energie und Forsten Rheinland-Pfalz, Hessisches Ministerium für Umwelt, Klimaschutz, Landwirtschaft und Verbraucherschutz, Landesfischereiverband Baden-Württemberg, Bezirksregierung Düsseldorf, Rheinfischereigenossenschaft NRW, Verband Hessischer Fischer, Bundesamt für Umwelt BAFU (CH), Sportvisserij Nederland (NL)
Project period: 2017-2021

The allis shad, formerly one of the fish species used by fishermen in the Rhine, had collapsed due to water pollution and overfishing in the first half of the 20th century and finally disappeared completely from the Rhine. Since 2007, attempts have been made to reintroduce allis shad in the Rhine. From 2007 to 2018, the re-introduction program has released almost 11 million of allis shad larvae in the Rhine system. During this program, all larvae were marked in a tetracycline hydrochlorine solution in order to be able to differentiate between stocked fish and fish that come from starting natural reproduction in the Rhine.

The current project is coordinated by the Rheinischer Fischereiverband, the Trier University of Applied Sciences is responsible as a project partner for the establishment and implementation of acoustic monitoring of the spawning activity of allis shad in the Rhine. A similar method is already used in the Dordogne and Garonne and is now being adapted to the conditions in the Rhine in cooperation with the French colleagues. Allis shad spawn at night over fast-flowing, gravelly river sections. They reliably search for very specific habitat conditions and are characterized by a high spawning place fidelity. During spawning, they strike the water surface with their tail fins. This striking, called "bulls", is recorded and then analyzed with special software to determine the number of allis shad spawning. By monitoring the known spawning sites below the transverse structures and counting stations at the fish passes, a relatively precise picture of the spawning stock below the transverse structures is obtained. In combination with the numbers of fish passes, this results in an estimate of the population size for one year.

In order to increase the knowledge of the life history of allis shad in the Rhine and the effectiveness of the re-introduction program, microchemistry analyses are performed using otolith of allis shad adult and juveniles caught (especially in the fish passes) along the Rhine and its tributaries, especially in the fish passes. The purpose of these analyses is to:

  1. Define the timing of the juveniles migration towards the sea (downstream migration strategies). We define this migration by coupling the juveniles daily age and some elements concentrations (Calcium (Ca), Strontium (Sr), Barium (Ba) and Manganese (Mn)) in the otoliths (transverse section) that is related to the concentration recorded in the ambient water for all habitat crossed by the young allis shad.
  2. Identification of the adult origin from another population (not natural reproduction in the Rhine) using elements concentration (Ca, Sr, Ba and Mn) and isotope ratio (87Sr:86Sr) of otolith related to the compound of the bed ground of different spawning sites. These results could be compared to identify a potential exchange of individuals between the different populations in the North Sea and Channel areas.

Project member: Elodie Boussinet


Funded by: Ministerium für Umwelt, Energie, Ernährung und Forsten Rheinland-Pfalz
Laufzeit: 2018-

In this project, a concept for a series of events entitled WasserWissenForum is being developed. The aim is to strengthen the networking between researchers on the subject of water in Rhineland-Palatinate with practitioners and administrators of water management. In the WasserWissenForum, current research results from applied research as well as basic research will be presented and discussed. All research areas related to water management will be covered, from biological, ecological, and hydrological topics to questions of chemical water quality, technical facilities, and infrastructural aspects of drinking water and wastewater treatment. The event takes place twice a year in the WasserWissenWerk at the Steinbachtalsperre in Kempfeld, which was newly opened in 2018. The promotion of young scientists is of particular importance in this series of events.

Project member: Thomas Meißner

Aktion Blau Plus

Funded by: Ministerium für Umwelt, Energie, Ernährung und Forsten Rheinland-Pfalz
Laufzeit: 2018-

Aktion Blau Plus is a programme of the state of Rhineland-Palatinate, which has been promoting the restoration of stream sections since 1995. In addition to ecological aspects, the economic and cultural functions of waters are here also considered. We examine the achievement of the objectives of these projects, with regard to both the objectives concerning economic and cultural function and the objective set by the European Water Framework Directive to bring water bodies into good ecological condition. Based on these studies, we will identified factors that are decisive for the success of water restoration projects. From this, we will derive concepts to increase the chances of success of such projects during the planning phase.

Project members: Thomas Meißner  Wolfram Remmers   Chris Seibüchler  Vanessa Schuster

Our Common Future program of Robert-Bosch-Foundation

Biodiversity change and climate protection in development areas of the Hunsrück-Hochwald National Park
The project is part of the funding line "Our Common Future" of the Robert Bosch Foundation. Here, pupils of the upper secondary level of the Cusanus-Gymnasium St. Wendel gain their first scientific experience. The pupils explore how species communities change under the influence of habitat restoration of the hillside moors in the national park. These species communities are captured using current methods, for instance programming smaprtphone apps, to demonstrate the close link between biodiversity research and computer science. In the course of the current climate change debate, carbon balances are prepared for different habitat types. The young people record their results in podcasts, explanatory videos and broadcasts of the National Park radio. The project runs for two school years and ends in July 2020.

Project members: Wolfram Remmers   Chris Seibüchler

Monitoring National Park Hunsrück-Hochwald

In the National Park Hunsrück-Hochwald we carry out an aquatic long-term monitoring program, which is part of the full environmental monitoring program of the National Park. With this monitoring program, the National Park is a member site of the LTER monitoring network in Germany. The aquatic monitoring covers the measurement of microclimatic, hydrological, physico-chemical and biological variables in the catchment of river Traunbach. These measurements are carried out with permanently applied data loggers for the measurement of abiotic environmental variables, supplemented by sampling of the species communities (fish, aquatic macro invertebrates, flying insects) in a 14-day to annual rhythm, depending on species group. Project-based, additional environmental data are collected. The collected data is evaluated together with the National Park, partners in the LTER network as well as in Bachelor and Master Theses at the Environmental Campus Birkenfeld. We also support the National Park in the evaluation of further monitoring data, e.g. camera trap data and telemetry data.

Key questions of the aquatic monitoring program are:

  • How does the biodiversity in streams and their floodplains change over the years, and what are the reasons for change?
  • Which functional changes are associated with these taxonomic changes?
  • How does the restoration of the hillside bogs in the National Park affect the carbon balance and the species community in the rivers?

Project member: Wolfram Remmers

Monitoring of the Steinbach reservoir

The Steinbach Reservoir is located in the Hunsrück close to the village Sensweiler. The main purpose of this 33 ha reservoir is the provision of drinking water. Because of restauration works on the dam the water level must be reduced significantly. In order to capture an ecological reference state for this waterbody, we monitor the vertical profiles of limnolological key variables since January 2018 and describe habitats and biological communities in different zones of the reservoir. The recordings will be continued during and after the restoration activities. Simultaneously we develop management concepts for the reservoir to be implemented after completion of the construction works.

European weather loach (Misgurnus fossilis) in the Northern Upper Rhine region: Sustainable population management and detection of eDNA

Funded by: SGD Süd, Regierungspräsidium Darmstadt, Regierungspräsidium Karlsruhe, Hessisches Landesamt für Naturschutz, Umwelt und Geologie.
Duration: 3 years (since 2018)

In Germany, the European weather loach is considered as Red List category 2 (highly endangered). Furthermore, this species is listed in Annex II of the Flora-Fauna-Habitat Directive and thus belongs to the ' species of wild fauna and flora of Community interest for which special protection areas must be designated'. The Upper Rhine region still has a number of occurrences of European weather loach and there are potentially suitable aquatic habitats existing. Consequently, the Upper Rhine area has a special significance for the preservation of the European weather loach.To restore a good state of preservation of the species, annual restocking is carried out. For this purpose, European weather loach larvae are raised in the Ecosystem Research System Eußerthal of the University of Koblenz-Landau in spring. After a few weeks the larvae are moved to suitable regional waters.
The project also aims to control the effectiveness of restocking. Detection of European weather loach is often ineffective by using traditional methods (scavenging and electrofishing), especially in heavily vegetated and muddy waters in which the animals preferentially reside. But those waters with such structures are preferred habitats of the European weather loach.
In this project, an alternative, novel detection method for aquatic organisms for the European weather loach will be tested. This method is based on a molecular genetic detection from water samples. Free DNA and cell residues (environmental DNA or DNA) occur in the water, which are released by the animals through excreta and permanently via the body surface, in particular the gills. The DNA is species-specific. Thus, an occurrence of European weather loach can be detected without consuming fishing methods. The project compares the effectiveness of classical trapping methods and the new eDNA method over the course of the year and under different environmental conditions.
The resulting data will be used to get a better insight into the so far not well-known seasonal and daily migration patterns of European weather loach. In addition, mesocosm experiments will be carried out to investigate the impact of environmental variability on the different age stages of European weather loach.

Project region: RP Darmstadt, RP Karlsruhe, SGD Süd
Project partner: Institut für Umweltwissenschaften der Universität Koblenz-Landau, Umwelt-Campus Birkenfeld der Hochschule Trier, INGA – Institut für Gewässer- und Auenökologie
Project members: Lena Kusanke

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