Project highlights

  • River restoration science is hindered by our limited scientific understanding of the primary stressor(s) degrading ecological communities and tools are urgently required to overcome this.
  • This project will work with the River Restoration Centre and Environment Agency to help develop an ‘ecological toolbox’ that can guide river restoration practices.
  • The successful candidate will develop world-leading theoretical and applied knowledge spanning a range of scientific disciplines (ecology, hydrology, geomorphology) to provide a holistic understanding of river restoration practices.
  • The candidate will develop a highly employable skillset and become proficient in various desktop-based (e.g. statistical and geospatial analyses) and practical (e.g. species-level invertebrate sampling and identification) techniques.

Overview

Freshwater ecosystems represent one of the most threatened habitats globally. In particular, river environments are being subjected to a growing range and intensification of anthropogenic pressures, including pollution, hydrological alterations and habitat modifications (WWF, 2020). Significant reductions in biodiversity have prompted a surge in river restoration efforts in recent decades. However, such interventions have often delivered modest ecological benefits due to restoration activities not targeting the stressor(s) affecting river biotic communities (Theodoropoulos et al., 2020). As such, tools which can help identify the key pressure(s) compromising ecosystem health are urgently required to help identify the likelihood of facilitating ecological recovery following the implementation of specific restoration actions. Macroinvertebrate biomonitoring tools developed in the UK could help address this pressing need as they characterise and quantify the ecological effects of different anthropogenic stressors, including eutrophication, flow regime alterations and fine sediment pressures. However, little research has examined multiple biomonitoring indices simultaneously in order to inform sustainable, catchment-wide river restoration strategies.

This project will develop and refine an ‘ecological toolbox’ that identifies primary stressor(s) stressing river ecosystems and the likelihood of promoting ecological recovery following the implementation of specific restoration strategies. It will do so by utilising a ‘big-data’ approach to assess key anthropogenic stressors which should be prioritised based on the response of multiple macroinvertebrate metrics and identify restoration opportunities. The candidate will draw on the expertise of the River Restoration Centre and their ‘National River Restoration Inventory’ to target watercourses exposed to specific human interventions and pressures. The candidate will also work with the Environment Agency’s ‘BIOSYS’ dataset on long-term freshwater river macroinvertebrate surveys from targeted rivers. Catchment-wide assessments and knowledge on a suite of river restoration measures will be undertaken to inform effective management strategies. The industrial partners will help identify restoration projects (near completion or recently finished) with robust baseline data which would be the focus of primary data field collection. This will provide a greater causal understanding of the ecological mechanisms underpinning macroinvertebrate metric responses, thus further refining and improving the ecological toolbox and its ability to predict sustainable interventions.

 

CENTA Flagship

This is a CENTA Flagship Project

Case funding

This project is suitable for CASE funding

Host

Loughborough University

Theme

  • Climate and Environmental Sustainability
  • Organisms and Ecosystems

Supervisors

Project investigator

  • Prof. Paul Wood (Loughborough University)

Co-investigators

  • Dr James. C. White (River Restoration Centre and Cranfield University)
  • Prof. David M. Hannah (University of Birmingham).
  • Dr Judy England (Environment Agency)

How to apply

Methodology

Multiple macroinvertebrate biomonitoring indices characterising the ecological effects of different anthropogenic stressors (e.g. eutrophication, hydrological alterations, fine sediment inputs) will be calculated from secondary datasets. This information will be extracted from catchments where key stressors have operated both in isolation and in combination, thus isolating the performance of different ecological toolbox elements. Biomonitoring indices will be explored alongside biological trait information to explore the functionality of invertebrate communities exposed to different stressors. Such ecological information will be combined and analysed in conjunction with various
environmental datasets via a suite of state-of-the-art statistical and geospatial analyses in order to develop and refine the ecological toolbox.
Primary data collection will build on this by examining the ecological toolbox at finer spatial and temporal scales more relevant to invertebrate life-cycles. This will provide a more direct cause and effect link between recently implemented restoration measures and the outcome of different macroinvertebrate biomonitoring indices.

Training and skills

The supervisory team will equip the candidate with an inter-disciplinary knowledgebase and skillset required for this project. Training will be provided in skills relating to freshwater ecology (including macroinvertebrate identification), field experimentation, database management, statistical analyses of large ecological and abiotic datasets. These skills developed will be beneficial for multiple career pathways. This includes academia, whereby the student will be supervised by a multi-institutional team that will support the writing of peer-reviewed journals and attending academic conferences.
The student will also be well equipped for a career in industry by working alongside the River Restoration Centre and the Environment Agency.

Partners and collaboration

The project has a multiple-institutional supervisory team, with representatives from Loughborough University, Cranfield University and University of Birmingham. The River Restoration Centre will be a CASE partner to the project and has a supervisory representative. The River Restoration Centre will provide input on case-study sites, expertise on restoration measures and help guide oversee the translation of knowledge and data into informing real-world solutions. In addition, there is also a supervisory representative from the Environment Agency, who will also help identify target case study sites, calculate biomonitoring indices and provide information from the BIOSYS database.

Further details

Please visit the Loughborough Universities website for application guidance:

https://www.lboro.ac.uk/study/postgraduate/apply/research-applications/

 

This is a CENTA Flagship Project

These have been selected because the project meets specific characteristics such as CASE support, collaboration with our CENTA high-level end-users, diversity of the supervisory team, career development of the supervisory team, collaboration with one of our Research Centre Partners (BGS, CEH, NCEO, NCAS) or student co-designed project. These characteristics are a CENTA priority. Studentships associated with Flagship projects will be provided exactly the same level of support as all other studentships.

 

Possible timeline

Year 1

  • Completion of literature reviews including: (i) the ecology of freshwater invertebrates; (ii) multi-stressors and human impacts on river ecosystems; (iii) statistical techniques required to analyse ecosystem responses, spatial and temporal assessments and managing large ecological datasets.
  •  Identification of secondary data case studies and field work locations.
  •  Undertake various CENTA and external training sessions.
  •  Training in macroinvertebrate identification.

Year 2

  • Collate and process secondary datasets.
  •  Analyse secondary data for individual case study.
  •  Undertake primary data collection – fieldwork and laboratory work.
  •  Undertake CENTA and external training sessions.

Year 3

  • Analyse remaining primary data and secondary data sets.
  • Attend international scientific conference.
  •  Write up findings for thesis submission.

Further reading

Birk, S., Bonne, W., Borja, A., Brucet, S., Courrat, A., Poikane, S., Solimini, A., Van De Bund, W.,Zampoukas, N. and Hering, D. (2012). Three hundred ways to assess Europe’s surface waters: analmost complete overview of biological methods to implement the Water Framework Directive.Ecological Indicators, 18, pp.31-41.

Clews, E. and Ormerod, S.J. (2009). Improving bio-diagnostic monitoring using simple combinations
of standard biotic indices. River Research and Applications, 25(3), pp.348-361.

Everall, N.C., Johnson, M.F., Wood, P., Farmer, A., Wilby, R.L. and Measham, N. (2017).
Comparability of macroinvertebrate biomonitoring indices of river health derived from semiquantitative and quantitative methodologies. Ecological indicators, 78, pp.437-448.

Theodoropoulos, C., Stamou, A., Vardakas, L., Papadaki, C., Dimitriou, E., Skoulikidis, N. and
Kalogianni, E. (2020). River restoration is prone to failure unless pre-optimized within a mechanistic
ecological framework| Insights from a model-based case study. Water Research, 173, 115550.

WWF (2020) A deep dive into freshwater. Living planet report 2020.

COVID-19

The secondary data analyses component of this project means it would be highly resilient to the uncertainties of the COVID-19 pandemic. Long-term macroinvertebrate datasets are already available and will guided by Environment Agency collaborators involved with the project. It is possible that field and laboratory may be affected by the pandemic, in such instances the supervisory team will seek to identify the most appropriate secondary data alternatives to ensure
the project can proceed.