CNR-IRSA activities related to INHABIT

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AQEM Project (contract n.: EVK1-CT 1999-00027) "The Development and Testing of an Integrated Assessment System for the Ecological Quality of Streams and Rivers throughout Europe using Benthic Macroinvertebrates. Acronym: AQEM" is a water research project under the 5th Framework Programme of the European Union, carried out from March 2000 to February 2002. Nine Europeans countries have participated in the AQEM Project, among these Italy was represented by CNR-IRSA, APPA Bolzano (Bolzano Province Environment Agency) and ARPA Novara (Piedmont Region Environment Agency). Both Research Institutes and Environment Agencies were encouraged in joining the consortium, in order to directly put in practice the project results.
The main objective of AQEM project was to develop a framework of assessment systems for streams in Europe based on benthic macroinvertebrates fulfilling the requirements of the EU Water Framework Directive ( AQEM project was the first EC project established with the aim of providing specific support for technical WFD implementation.
AQEM project has adopted a common approach over the investigated stream types, that involved a standardised multi-habitat sampling procedure and the recording of a common set of parameters describing the streams and their catchments, for all sampling sites. Assessment systems were developed for 28 stream types in Austria, Czech Republic, Germany, Greece, Italy, The Netherlands, Portugal and Sweden. In particular in Italy 4 stream types belonging to 4 areas has been selected: 1. Small streams, siliceous catchment, above 800 m, Alps, Trentino-Alto Adige; 2. Small lowland spring-fed streams of the Po valley, Piemonte; 3. Medium sized streams of the Northern Apennines  between 200 and 800 m, Emilia-Romagna; 4. Small streams of the Southern Apennines, calcareous catchment, between 200 and 800 m, Campania.
AQEM approach has considered two main aspects, as required by the Water Framework Directive, i.e.:

  • a stream type-specific approach;
  • classification method based on the comparison with type-specific reference conditions.

A common approach was also considered for data analysis; this was based on the selection of biological metrics, quantifying features of the biological community, representative of the observed gradient of alteration. Selected metrics can be combined into indices, their final values eventually converted in a quality class,  from ‘high’ to ‘bad’. In Italy data collected during AQEM Project has created a baseline for the selection of metrics correlated to quality/alteration gradients in the investigated sites and the development of multimetric indices.
Tools developed by AQEM consortium are available here for download and include:

ASTERICS assessment software
A computer program, developed by the AQEM consortium, allowing the calculation of the numerical values ​​of a series of biological metrics, on the basis of a taxonomic list of benthic macroinvertebrates. Class quality is associated to some of the calculated metrics (or their combinations). The software has been developed during the project AQEM and implemented in subsequent projects.

Taxa database
A comprehensive database of European macroinvertebrate taxa which is the scientific base of the AQEM software. The database has been further improved within the EU funded project Euro-limpacs.

AQEM DIP software
A tool for storing both, macroinvertebrate taxa lists and data on stream characteristics.

AQEM manual
Detailed description of the AQEM procedure to assess European streams with benthic macroinvertebrates, covering the whole process from sampling site selection to data interpretation.

Results of AQEM project are also available at Hydrobiologia special issue n. 516 (2004).

In the pictures: views of some of the investigated river reaches in Italy and some of the activities carried out on the field during the project.