CNR-IRSA activities related to INHABIT

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Several methods are available all over Europe for river habitat description and evaluation (e.g. LAWA, 2000; Muhar & Jungwirth, 1998; Agences de l’eau, 1998). Among these methods, the British  River Habitat Survey method (RHS) has been widely used in various European areas (i.e. more than 15 European states including several countries in Mediterranean area) in relation to EU co-funded projects dedicated to WFD implementation (e.g. STAR - and to the evaluation of temporal evolution of river ecosystems associated to climate changes (e.g. Eurolimpacs - The CARAVAGGIO method (Core Assessment of River hAbitat VAlue and hydro-morpholoGIcal cOndition) adopts the same approach as RHS and fits in the present European and Italian environmental normative framework as a tool for the implementation of some aspects related to two of the most important regulations: WFD (2000/60/EC) and HABITAT Directive (92/43/CEE).

The CARAVAGGIO method offers a collection of information - as objective as possible - for a broad and extensive characterization of river environment. Gathered information can be used in order to describe a large number of specific habitats, as well as the "character" and the general "quality" of the considered river stretch, as expressed through a set of synthetic descriptors.

With reference to the purposes of WFD and the HD, the CARAVAGGIO method allows the collection of environmental data that can be used independently or in combination with other information for a variety of purposes, including:

  • River habitat description and quality classification.
  • Reference sites selection and description of type- and site- specific reference conditions.
  • Support to data interpretation for Biological Quality elements, sensu WFD.
  • Habitat characterization for fish fauna and fishing activities management.
  • Selection of quality habitat supporting HABITAT Directive requirements, and other environmental regulations.
  • Protection of biodiversity.
  • Collection of information for the evaluation of nutrient retention capacity in rivers.
  • Detail investigation of national river typization (D.M. 131/2008).
  • Lentic-lotic character definition in rivers.
  • Environmental education in river ecology.
  • Evaluation of pressures and impacts.
  • Procedures for Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) and Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) for aquatic ecosystems.
  • Quantification of impacts of water abstraction on habitats and biocoenoses.
  • Evaluation of impacts form hydropower plants.
  • Support to definition of acceptable flows for aquatic biocoenoses.
  • Estimation of risk of failing quality objectives and achievement of Good Ecological Status.
  • Habitat characterization in Heavily Modified Water Bodies.
  • Definition of restoration and protection measures and verification of their efficacy.
  • Support in the definition of protection and management plans.

Specifically, stream and riparian habitats are recorded along a 500m reach. The following areas of the stream are considered: channel, banks and peri-fluvial areas. The method is divided into two separate parts. In the first one, bank and channel features are recorded every 50m on 10 equally spaced spot-checks perpendicular to river flows. In the ‘spot-check’ section the following features, among others, are recorded:

  • Land use on the banktop and bank vegetation structure;
  • Bank physical features;
  • Erosional/Depositional features (main channel, banks and secondary channel);
  • Total water width and total channel width;
  • Channel habitat features and modification (e.g. flow types, substrate types);
  • Channel vegetation.

In the second section, or sweep-up, features are recorded along the whole 500m stretch. The following features, among others, are recorded in the sweep-up:

  • Channel artificial features;
  • Land use in 50m from the bank top;
  • Bank profiles;
  • Tree cover and related features;
  • Selected channel features;
  • Other channel and bank features.

Field forms and related application keys are available at this link.

Examples of compiled field forms and CARAVAGGIO manual (in Italian) are also available.

A set of synthetic indices can be calculated from data collected with CARAVAGGIO method. Each of these indices summarizes the information related to a peculiar aspect of the investigated sites. The development of indices from CARAVAGGIO data is an ongoing process. At present main available indicators are:

  • Habitat Quality Assessment (HQA): diversification and quality of channel and bank habitat;
  • Habitat Modification Score (HMS): level of morphological alteration caused by artificial structures;
  • Land Use Index (LUI): level of anthropization of land use in stream and riparian areas;
  • Habitat Quality Index (Italian acronym: IQH): mean value of the three previous indices;
  • Lentic-lotic River Descriptor (LRD): definition of lentic-lotic character in a stream reach.

Detailed information about CARAVAGGIO method’s features and  potential for deriving hydro-morphological and habitat information is available at INHABIT deliverable Pd3 (in Italian).

In this website section a table displaying class boundary values for each descriptor is available.

Manual of the CARAVAGGIO method (in Italian)