Research ship Albis. Photo: André Künzelmann/UFZ

Department of River Ecology

How can species diversity in our rivers be safeguarded and increased? Which ecosystem functions characterise a river? How are they managed and what is their relationship to species diversity? How can we quantify these biological functions and assess their importance at a landscape level? Among the many human influences, how do we identify those which are detrimental to the ecological status? How long do pollutants remain active in a river and where are they located?

These are the questions that the researchers in the Department of River Ecology would like to answer with their work and thus make a contribution to the sustainable development of rivers against the backdrop of human action. Rivers are unique ecosystems. They are home to an abundance of adapted animal and plant species and provide vital ecosystem services. They are also very important for humans as reservoirs of fresh water, for transport and leisure activities and also as receiving waters. This conflict between the great demands made of the structure and function of water bodies and their simultaneous exposure to an increasingly complex burden of chemicals and morphological modifications necessitates adaptations to their management.

The focus of the Department of River Ecology, therefore, is to manage the good ecological and chemical status of rivers. The range of topics is application- and problem-oriented. With our investigations we aim to gain a sound understanding of the processes in the ecosystem in order to derive general mechanisms for action and management options from them.

To do this, we combine long-term, process-oriented field experiments with experimental manipulation. Key to this approach are the mobile mesocosm platform MOBICOS, the Helmholtz Association's Harz/Central German Lowland Observatory (TERENO) and the river research vessel ALBIS. Biological topics focus on the quantitative analysis of key structures and associated substance conversion and food web processes. For example, we investigate microbial biofilms with modern imaging methods such as laser scanning microscopy. Modern molecular methods and the analysis of stable isotopes are used to quantify processes within microbial and macroscopic food webs. The priorities in the area of chemical water quality are source analysis and the distribution behaviour of pollutants, for which there is a fully equipped water analysis laboratory (water analysis and chemometrics).