Research in the River

11 scientists and 300 kilometers of river

Water sampling and measurements of primary production at the Shushica, a tributary to the Vjosa far in the east, where snowmelt is long gone. The river is characterised by large boulders and crystal-clear water. | Photo: Lukas Thuile Bistarelli / IGB

The IGB research group Fluvial Ecosystem Ecology sampled the entire river network of the Vjosa in Albania in a three weeks long expedition. The team investigated the biodiversity of periphyton, bacteria and invertebrates, and measured a range of ecosystem functions ranging from enzyme activities to ecosystem-scale metabolism and evasion of greenhouse gases. The research efforts are part of the ERC-funded Starting Grant FLUFLUX, which aims to investigate linkages of biodiversity and ecosystem functions of whole river networks.

The Vjosa is a unique study place for this research question. For almost its entire course from the Greek Pindos mountains to the Adriatic Sea water flow and sediment transport are unobstructed, creating a dynamic river landscape that is not existing elsewhere at this spatial scale in Europe. Up to now the Vjosa is a hydromorphologically almost unaltered river, and as such an invaluable reference system to guide ecologists in future renaturation projects. Ideally, research findings of the team also contribute towards recognition of the Vjosa’s value and abandonment of current hydropower development plans.

The expedition was supported by scientists from the University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences in Vienna (BOKU), the Senckenberg Research Institute and Natural History Museum in Frankfurt, the Swiss Federal Institute of Aquatic Science and Technology in Zürich (Eawag) and the University of Tirana.

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