CNR-IRSA activities related to INHABIT

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CNR-IRSA activities related to the review of information on Ephemeroptera autoecology found a first conclusion in the volume ‘Distribution and Ecological Preferences of European Freshwater Organisms. Volume 3. Ephemeroptera’ published in 2009 by Pensoft Publisher, Sofia-Moskow [], that is an outcome of the Euro-limpacs project []. The book is the third volume of a book series and summarizes the current knowledge on European mayflies (Ephemeroptera), one of the oldest living order of winged insect and one of the most abundant taxonomic groups inhabiting European freshwater environments. A recently compiled European mayfly checklist includes 18 families, 50 genera and 339 species distributed throughout Europe. Ephemeroptera constitute a key element in freshwater ecosystems as they are present in a broad assortment of habitats, display a wide range of ecological requirements and often contribute significantly to the secondary production of the benthic community. In addition, mayflies are often appropriate indicators for detecting many kinds of environmental change and ecosystem alteration.

Distribution & Ecological Preferences of European Freshwater Organisms

Over the last 10-20 years, knowledge concerning the ecological preferences of benthic invertebrates including Ephemeroptera, has been summarized in some European countries. Although these comprehensive works have proven to be a fundamental contribution to European autecological knowledge, their compilation was generally based on expert systems, which focused on local or national experiences rather than on the integration of European data. The study performed and described in the book aims to provide a larger-scale perspective of the mayflies’ ecological needs and preferences and includes the results presented in the above-mentioned reviews. The appraisal presented there is based solely upon published papers, i.e. the use of experimental data is only indirectly accounted for by extracting information from printed papers and authors’ collections. 

The database presented in the book could be of great support in obtaining information on the overall traits of potential indicators for different kinds of impact. Moreover, it could support the development of predictive assessment systems for benthic communities based on abiotic variables. The presented data may also be extremely useful in supporting conservation and biodiversity protection programmes. The notable absence of the mayfly and most other aquatic invertebrate species from the official European conservation database and legislation, i.e. the IUCN list (IUCN 2007) and the EU Habitat Directive (92/43/EC), should be revised and the information made available with this database could be used to specify an initial list of species that require protection in order to conserve European freshwater biodiversity. A regular update of the above mentioned and widely used official lists with reference to all sensitive mayflies and other aquatic invertebrate species is to be highly encouraged so that conservation strategies for vulnerable species can be implemented.

As far as climate change is concerned, the information presented here is only a starting point in the evaluation of its potential effects on various freshwater ecosystems. The main biological traits involved will be temperature and altitudinal preferences, the plasticity of life cycles and, especially in southern European countries, an aptitude for colonizing intermittent rivers. Life cycle is expected to be especially influenced because of its dependence on thermal regimes and the necessary conditions for egg hatching, larval development and flight emergence periods. Altitudinal and longitudinal distribution ranges are also extremely relevant to the study of climate change effects.

This review constitutes a comprehensive picture of papers published until the end of 2007. Papers from all over Europe have been searched for and examined in order to guarantee a good coverage of different European geographical areas. Nevertheless, the results obtained would greatly benefit from the integration of knowledge from some more European areas, in which language barriers or problems with access to literature sources have limited the effectiveness of the review process (e.g., eastern countries). The review process itself should be considered as work in progress. Future collaboration with other taxonomic and ecological experts to integrate currently available literature datasets is to be greatly encouraged and would be highly appreciated for producing a joint and even more exhaustive review in future.

The main categories of traits and autoecological parameters considered in the work are distribution and occurrence, preferences regarding temperature, altitude, pH and microhabitat. In order to characterize the autoecological preference and occurrence of the European mayfly, 32 parameters were selected. The different parameters were grouped in the following 4 macro autoecological categories:

  • Distribution including 4 parameters that refer to stream zonation, ecoregions and altitude distribution;
  • Rarity – Occurrence including 8 parameters that refer to rare species, Red list species, endemism, disjunct populations, sensitive and invasive species, occurrence in large quantities and indicator species;
  • Life cycle – Temperature including 14 parameters that refer to temperature preference, life cycle characteristics, strategies and forms of resistance;
  • Habitat including 6 parameters that refer to habitat and current preferences, feeding and locomotion types and ph preference.

The book provides comprehensive information on the ecological preferences of European mayflies, based on the screening and evaluation of over 2800 literature references. In addition, the distribution within the European ecoregions is given for 344 mayfly species and sub-species. All data are additionally stored in an online database (, Buffagni et al. 2007).

Selected papers

Buffagni A., M. Cazzola, M. J. López-Rodríguez, J. Alba-Tercedor & D. G. Armanini 2009. Distribution and Ecological Preferences of European Freshwater Organisms. Volume 3. Ephemeroptera. Schmidt-Kloiber A. & D. Hering Editors, Pensoft Publisher, Sofia-Moskow, 254 pp.