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Review article2021Peer reviewedOpen access

Assessing the Ecological Status of European Rivers and Lakes Using Benthic Invertebrate Communities: A Practical Catalogue of Metrics and Methods

Vitecek, Simon; Johnson, Richard K.; Poikane, Sandra


The Water Framework Directive requires that the ecological status of surface waters be monitored and managed if necessary. A central function in ecological status assessment has the Biological Quality Elements-organisms inhabiting surface waters-by indicating human impact on their habitat. For benthic invertebrates, a wide array of national methods are used, but to date no comprehensive summary of metrics and methods is available. In this study, we summarize the benthic invertebrate community metrics used in national systems to assess the ecological status of rivers, (very) large rivers, and lakes. Currently, benthic invertebrate assemblages are used in 26 national assessment systems for rivers, 13 assessment systems for very large rivers, and 21 assessment systems for lakes in the EU. In the majority of systems, the same metrics and modules are used. In the Red Queen's race of ecosystem management this may be a disadvantage as these same metrics and module likely depict the same stressors but there is growing evidence that aquatic ecosystems are subject to highly differentiated, complex multiple stressor impacts. Method development should be fostered to identify and rank impacts in multi-stressor environments. DNA-based biomonitoring 2.0 offers to detect stressors with greater accuracy-if new tools are calibrated.


saprobic index; general degradation index; bioassessment

Published in

2021, Volume: 13, number: 3, article number: 346
Publisher: MDPI

    Sustainable Development Goals

    SDG6 Clean water and sanitation
    SDG15 Life on land

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