, Volume 704, Issue 1, pp 1–9 | Cite as

Assessment and recovery of European water bodies: key messages from the WISER project

  • Daniel HeringEmail author
  • Angel Borja
  • Laurence Carvalho
  • Christian K. Feld


The EU-funded research project WISER (“Water bodies in Europe: Integrative Systems to assess Ecological status and Recovery”) developed new assessment methods required by the EU Water Framework Directive (WFD) for lakes, coastal and transitional waters. WISER also addressed the recovery of biotic assemblages from degradation. The results are summarised in five key messages, supported by papers in this special issue and by WISER results published elsewhere: (1) Response to stress differs between organism groups, water types and stressors; a conceptual model is proposed summarising how the individual organism groups respond to different types of degradation in rivers, lakes, transitional and coastal waters. (2) The sources of uncertainty differ between BQEs and water types, leading to methodological suggestions on how to design WFD sampling programmes. (3) Results from about 300 current assessment methods indicate geographical variations in metrics but assessments are comparable at an aggregated level (“ecological status”). (4) Scale and time matter; restoration requires action at (sub)-basin levels and recovery may require decades. (5) Long-term trends require consideration; the effects of both degradation and restoration at the water body or river basin scales is increasingly superimposed by multiple stressors acting at large scales, in particular by climate change.


Lakes Rivers Transitional waters Coastal waters Uncertainty Water Framework Directive 



WISER (Water bodies in Europe: Integrative Systems to assess Ecological status and Recovery) was funded by the European Union under the 7th Framework Programme, Theme 6 (Environment including Climate Change) (contract No. 226273),


  1. Allan, J. D., 2004. Landscapes and riverscapes: the Influence of land use on stream ecosystems. Annual Review of Ecology, Evolution, and Systematics 35: 257–284.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Alvarez, M. C., A. Franco, R. Pérez-Domínguez & M. Elliott, 2012. Sensitivity analysis to explore responsiveness and dynamic range of multi-metric fish-based indices for assessing the ecological status of estuaries and lagoons. Hydrobiologia. doi: 10.1007/s10750-012-1314-7.Google Scholar
  3. Argillier, C., S. Caussé, M. Gevrey, S. Pédron, J. D. Bortoli, S. Brucet, M. Emmrich, E. Jeppesen, T. Lauridsen, T. Mehner, M. Olin, M. Rask, P. Volta, I. Winfield, F. Kelly, T. Krause, A. Palm & K. Holmgren, 2012. Development of a fish-based index to assess the eutrophication status of European lakes. Hydrobiologia. doi: 10.1007/s10750-012-1282-y.Google Scholar
  4. Balsby, T., D. Krause Jensen & J. Carstensen, 2012. Sources of uncertainty in estimation of eelgrass depth limits. Hydrobiologia. doi: 10.1007/s10750-012-1374-8.Google Scholar
  5. Basset, A., E. Barbone, A. Borja, M. Elliott, G. Jona-Lasinio, J. C. Marques, K. Mazik, I. Muxika, J. Magalhães Neto, S. Reizopoulou, I. Rosati & H. Teixeira, 2012. Natural variability and reference conditions: setting type-specific classification boundaries for lagoon macroinvertebrates in the Mediterranean and Black Seas. Hydrobiologia. doi: 10.1007/s10750-012-1273-z.Google Scholar
  6. Birk, S., W. Bonne, A. Borja, S. Brucet, A. Courrat, S. Poikane, A. G. Solimini, W. van de Bund, N. Zampoukas & D. Hering, 2012. Three hundred ways to assess Europe’s surface waters: an almost complete overview of biological methods to implement the Water Framework Directive. Ecological Indicators 18: 31–41.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Borja, A., D. Dauer, M. Elliott & C. Simenstad, 2010. Medium- and long-term recovery of estuarine and coastal ecosystems: patterns, rates and restoration effectiveness. Estuaries and Coasts 33: 1249–1260.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Borja, A., M. Elliott, P. Hendriksen & N. Marba, 2012. Transitional and coastal waters ecological status assessment: advances and challenges resulting from implementing the European Water Framework Directive. Hydrobiologia. doi: 10.1007/s10750-012-1276-9.Google Scholar
  9. Carlson, P. E., R. K. Johnson & B. G. McKie, 2012. Optimizing stream bioassessment: habitat, season, and the impacts of land use on benthic macroinvertebrates. Hydrobiologia. doi: 10.1007/s10750-012-1251-5.Google Scholar
  10. Caroni, R., W. van de Bund, R. T. Clarke & R. K. Johnson, 2012. Combination of multiple biological quality elements into waterbody assessment of surface waters. Hydrobiologia. doi: 10.1007/s10750-012-1274-y.Google Scholar
  11. Carstensen, J., D. Krause-Jensen, S. Markager, K. Timmermann & J. Windolf, 2012. Water clarity and eelgrass responses to nitrogen reductions in the eutrophic Skive Fjord, Denmark. Hydrobiologia. doi: 10.1007/s10750-012-1266-y.Google Scholar
  12. Carvalho, L., A. Solimini, G. Phillips, M. van den Berg, O.-P. Pietilainen, A. Lyche Solheim, S. Poikane & U. Mischke, 2008. Chlorophyll reference conditions for European lake types used for intercalibration of ecological status. Aquatic Ecology 42: 203–211.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Carvalho, L., G. Borics, J. Catalan, C. De Hoyos, S. Drakare, B. Dudley, M. Järvinen, C. Laplace-Treyture, A. Lyche Solheim, K. Maileht, U. Mischke, J. Moe, G. Morabito, P. Nõges, T. Nõges, I. Ott, A. Pasztaleniec, G. Phillips, S. Poikane, B. Skjelbred & S. Thackeray, 2012. Lake Phytoplankton: integrating compositional and functional metric responses to eutrophication. Hydrobiologia. doi: 10.1007/s10750-012-1344-1.
  14. Clarke, R. T., 2012. Estimating confidence of European WFD ecological status class and WISER Bioassessment Uncertainty Guidance Software (WISERBUGS). Hydrobiologia. doi: 10.1007/s10750-012-1245-3.Google Scholar
  15. Clarke, R. T. & D. Hering, 2006. Errors and uncertainty in bioassessment methods—major results and conclusions from the STAR project and their application using STARBUGS. Hydrobiologia 566: 433–439.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Dahm, V., D. Hering, D. Nemitz, W. Graf, A. Schmidt-Kloiber, P. Leitner, A. Melcher & C.K. Feld, 2013. Effects of physico-chemistry, land use and hydromorphology on three riverine organism groups: A comparative analysis with monitoring data from Germany and Austria. Hydrobiologia. doi: 10.1007/s10750-012-1431-3.
  17. Directive, 2000. Directive 2000/60/EC of the European Parliament and of the council of 23 October 2000 establishing a framework for community action in the field of water policy. Official Journal of the European Communities L 327: 1–72.Google Scholar
  18. Dromph, K., S. Agusti, A. Basset, J. Franco, P. Henriksen, J. Icely, S. Lehtinen, S. Moncheva, M. Revilla, L. Roselli & K. Sørensen, 2012. Sources of uncertainty in assessment of marine phytoplankton communities. Hydrobiologia. doi: 10.1007/s10750-012-1353-0.Google Scholar
  19. Dudley, B., M. Dunbar, E. Penning, A. Kolada, S. Hellsten, A. Oggioni, V. Bertin, F. Ecke & M. Sondergaard, 2012. Measurements of uncertainty in macrophyte metrics used to assess European lake water quality. Hydrobiologia. doi: 10.1007/s10750-012-1338-z.Google Scholar
  20. Feld, C. K., S. Birk, D. C. Bradley, D. Hering, J. Kail, A. Marzin, A. Melcher, D. Nemitz, M. L. Petersen, F. Pletterbauer, D. Pont, P. F. M. Verdonschot & N. Friberg, 2011. From natural to degraded rivers and back again: a test of restoration ecology theory and practice. Advances in Ecological Research 44: 119–209.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Ferreira, J. G., J. H. Andersen, A. Borja, S. B. Bricker, J. Camp, M. Cardoso da Silva, E. Garcés, A.-S. Heiskanen, C. Humborg, L. Ignatiades, C. Lancelot, A. Menesguen, P. Tett, N. Hoepffner & U. Claussen, 2011. Overview of eutrophication indicators to assess environmental status within the European Marine Strategy Framework Directive. Estuarine, Coastal and Shelf Science 93: 117–131.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Frissell, C. A., W. J. Liss, C. E. Warren & M. D. Hurley, 1986. A hierarchical framework for stream habitat classification: viewing streams in a watershed context. Environmental Management 12: 199–214.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Gabriels, W., K. Lock, N. De Pauw & P. L. M. Goethals, 2010. Multimetric Macroinvertebrate Index Flanders (MMIF) for biological assessment of rivers and lakes in Flanders (Belgium). Limnologica 40: 199–207.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Garmendia, M., M. Revilla & L. Zarauz, 2012. Testing the usefulness of a simple automatic method for particles abundance and size determination to derive cost-effective phytoplankton indicators, in large monitoring networks. Hydrobiologia. doi: 10.1007/s10750-012-1400-x.
  25. Haase, P., D. Hering, S. C. Jähnig, A. W. Lorenz & A. Sundermann, 2012. The impact of hydromorphological restoration on river ecological status: a comparison of fish, benthic invertebrates, and macrophytes. Hydrobiologia. doi: 10.1007/s10750-012-1255-1.Google Scholar
  26. Hering, D., O. Moog, L. Sandin & P. Verdonschot, 2004. Overview and application of the AQEM assessment system. Hydrobiologia 516: 1–20.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Hering, D., R. K. Johnson, S. Kramm, S. Schmutz, K. Szoszkiewicz & P. F. M. Verdonschot, 2006a. Assessment of European rivers with diatoms, macrophytes, invertebrates and fish: a comparative metric-based analysis of organism response to stress. Freshwater Biology 51: 1757–1785.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Hering, D., R. K. Johnson & A. Buffagni, 2006b. Linking organism groups—major results and conclusions from the STAR project. Hydrobiologia 566: 109–113.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Hering, D., A. Borja, J. Carstensen, L. Carvalho, M. Elliott, C. K. Feld, A.-S. Heiskanen, R. K. Johnson, J. Moe, D. Pont, A. Lyche Solheim & W. van de Bund, 2010. The European Water Framework Directive at the age of 10: a critical review of the achievements with recommendations for the future. Science of the Total Environment 408: 4007–4019.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Järvinen, M., S. Drakare, G. Free, A. Lyche-Solheim, G. Phillips, B. Skjelbred, U. Mischke, I. Ott, S. Poikane, M. Søndergaard, A. Pasztaleniec, J. Van Wichelen & R. Portielje, 2012. Phytoplankton indicator taxa for reference conditions in Northern and Central European lowland lakes. Hydrobiologia. doi: 10.1007/s10750-012-1315-6.Google Scholar
  31. Jeppesen, E. M., J. P. Søndergaard, K. E. Jensen, O. Havens, L. Anneville, M. F. Carvalho, R. Coveney, M. T. Deneke, B. Dokulil, D. Foy, S. E. Gerdeaux, S. Hampton, K. Hilt, J. Kangur, E. H. H. R. Köhler, T. L. Lammens, M. Lauridsen, M. R. Manca, B. Miracle, P. Moss, G. Nõges, G. Persson, R. Phillips, C. L. Portielje, D. Schelske, I. Straile, E. Willen Tatrai & M. Winder, 2005. Lake responses to reduced nutrient loading—an analysis of contemporary long-term data from 35 case studies. Freshwater Biology 50: 1747–1771.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Jeppesen, E., M. Meerhoff, K. Holmgren, I. Gonzalez-Bergonzoni, F. Teixeira-de Mello, S. A. J. Declerck, L. De Meester, M. Søndergaard, T. L. Lauridsen, R. Bjerring, J. M. Conde-Porcuna, N. Mazzeo, C. Iglesias, M. Reizenstein, H. J. Malmquist, Z. Liu, D. Balayla & X. Lazzaro, 2010. Impacts of climate warming on lake fish community structure and potential effects on ecosystem function. Hydrobiologia 646: 73–90.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Jeppesen, E., T. Mehner, I. J. Winfield, K. Kangur, J. Sarvala, D. Gerdeaux, M. Rask, H. J. Malmquist, K. Holmgren, P. Volta, S. Romo, R. Eckmann, A. Sandström, S. Blanco, A. Kangur, H. R. Stabo, M. Tarvainen, A.-M. Ventelä, M. Søndergaard, T. L. Lauridsen & M. Meerhoff, 2012. Impacts of climate warming on the long-term dynamics of key fish species in 24 European lakes. Hydrobiologia 694: 1–39. doi: 10.1007/s10750-012-1182-1.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Karus, K. & T. Feldmann, 2012. Factors influencing macrophyte metrics in Estonian coastal lakes in the light of ecological status assessment. Hydrobiologia. doi: 10.1007/s10750-012-1300-0.Google Scholar
  35. Kernan, M., R. W. Battarbee & B. R. Moss, 2010. Climate change impacts on freshwater ecosystems. Wiley-Blackwell, Oxford.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Logez, M. & D. Pont, 2012. Global warming and potential shift in reference conditions: the case of functional fish-based metrics. Hydrobiologia. doi: 10.1007/s10750-012-1250-6.Google Scholar
  37. Lorenz, A. W. & C. K. Feld, 2012. Upstream river morphology and riparian land use overrule local restoration effects on ecological status assessment. Hydrobiologia. doi: 10.1007/s10750-012-1326-3.Google Scholar
  38. Lyche-Solheim A., C.K. Feld, S. Birk, G. Phillips, L. Carvalho, G. Morabito, U. Mischke, N Willby, M. Søndergaard, S. Hellsten, A. Kolada, M. Mjelde, J. Böhmer, O. Miler, M.T. Pusch, C. Argillier, E. Jeppesen, T.L. Lauridsen & S. Poikane, 2013. Ecological status assessment of European lakes: a comparison of metrics for phytoplankton, macrophytes, benthic invertebrates and fish. Hydrobiologia. doi: 10.1007/s10750-012-1436-y.
  39. Maileht, K., T. Nõges, P. Nõges, I. Ott, U. Mischke, L. Carvalho & B. Dudley, 2012. Water colour, phosphorus and alkalinity are the major determinants of the dominant phytoplankton species in European lakes. Hydrobiologia. doi: 10.1007/s10750-012-1348-x.Google Scholar
  40. Marbà, N., D. Krause-Jensen, T. Alcoverro, S. Birk, A. Pedersen, J.M. Neto, S. Orfanidis, J.M. Garmendia, I. Muxika, A. Borja, K. Dencheva & C.M. Duarte, 2012. Diversity of European seagrass indicators: Patterns within and across regions. Hydrobiologia. doi: 10.1007/s10750-012-1403-7.
  41. Marzin, A., P. F. M. Verdonschot & D. Pont, 2012. The relative influence of catchment, riparian corridor and reach-scale anthropogenic pressures on fish and macroinvertebrate assemblages in French rivers. Hydrobiologia. doi: 10.1007/s10750-012-1254-2.Google Scholar
  42. Mascaró, O., T. Alcoverro, K. Dencheva, I. Díez, J.M. Gorostiaga, D. Krause-Jensen, T.J.S. Balsby, N. Marbà, I. Muxika, J.M. Neto, V. Nikolić, S. Orfanidis, A. Pedersen, M. Pérez & J. Romero, 2012. Exploring the robustness of macrophyte-based classification methods to assess the ecological status of coastal and transitional ecosystems under the WFD. Hydrobiologia. doi: 10.1007/s10750-012-1426-0.
  43. Meerhoff, M., C. Iglesias, F. T. De Mello, J. M. Clemente, E. Jensen, T. L. Lauridsen & E. Jeppesen, 2007. Effects of habitat complexity on community structure and predator avoidance behaviour of littoral zooplankton in temperate versus subtropical shallow lakes. Freshwater Biology 52: 1009–1021.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Mischke, U., S. Thackeray, M. Dunbar, C. McDonald, L. Carvalho, C. de Hoyos, M. Jarvinen, C. Laplace-Treyture, G. Morabito, B. Skjelbred, A. Lyche Solheim, B. Brierley & B. Dudley, 2012. Deliverable D3.1-4: guidance document on sampling, analysis and counting standards for phytoplankton in lakes. (, checked on 19 Oct. 2012)
  45. Mjelde, M., S. Hellsten & F. Ecke, 2012. A water level drawdown index for aquatic macrophytes in Nordic lakes. Hydrobiologia. doi: 10.1007/s10750-012-1323-6.Google Scholar
  46. Moe, S. J., A. Schmidt-Kloiber, B. J. Dudley & D. Hering, 2012. The WISER way of organising ecological data from European rivers, lakes, transitional and coastal waters. Hydrobiologia. doi: 10.1007/s10750-012-1337-0.Google Scholar
  47. Mysiak, J., C. Giupponi & P. Rosato, 2005. Towards the development of a decision support system for water resource management. Environmental Modelling & Software 20: 203–214.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Nõges, P., W. van de Bund, A. Cardoso, A. Solimini & A.-S. Heiskanen, 2009. Assessment of the ecological status of European surface waters: a work in progress. Hydrobiologia 633: 197–211.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Norris, R. H., S. Linke, I. Prosser, W. J. Young, P. Liston, N. Bauer, N. Sloane, F. Dyer & M. Thoms, 2007. Very-broad-scale assessment of human impacts on river condition. Freshwater Biology 52: 959–976.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Paul, M. J. & J. L. Meyer, 2001. Streams in the urban landscape. Annual Review of Ecology, Evolution, and Systematics 32: 333–365.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Phillips, G., A. Lyche-Solheim, B. Skjelbred, U. Mischke, S. Drakare, G. Free, M. Järvinen, C. de Hoyos, G. Morabito, S. Poikane & L. Carvalho, 2012. A phytoplankton trophic index to assess the status of lakes for the Water Framework Directive. Hydrobiologia. doi: 10.1007/s10750-012-1390-8.Google Scholar
  52. Schmidt-Kloiber, A., S. J. Moe, B. Dudley, J. Strackbein & R. Vogl, 2012. The WISER metadatabase: the key to more than 100 ecological datasets from European rivers, lakes and coastal waters. Hydrobiologia. doi: 10.1007/s10750-012-1295-6.Google Scholar
  53. Schmutz, S., I. G. Cowx, G. Haidvogl & D. Pont, 2007. Fish-based methods for assessing European running waters: a synthesis. Fisheries Management and Ecology 14: 369–380.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Søndergaard, M., G. Phillips, S. Hellsten, A. Kolada, F. Ecke, H. Mäemets, M. Mjelde, M. M. Azzella & A. Oggioni, 2012. Maximum growing depth of submerged macrophytes in European lakes. Hydrobiologia. doi: 10.1007/s10750-012-1389-1.Google Scholar
  55. Thackeray, S., P. Nõges, M. Dunbar, B. Dudley, B. Skjelbred, G. Morabito, L. Carvalho, G. Phillips, U. Mischke, J. Catalan, C. de Hoyos, C. Laplace, M. Austoni, B. Padedda, K. Maileht, A. Pasztaleniec, M. Järvinen, A. Lyche Solheim & R. Clarke, 2012. Quantifying uncertainties in biologically-based water quality assessment: a pan-European analysis of lake phytoplankton community metrics. Ecological Indicators (in press).Google Scholar
  56. Tippett, J. B., C. Pahl-Wostl Searle & Y. Rees, 2005. Social learning in public participation in river basin management—early findings from HarmoniCOP European case studies. Environmental Science & Policy 8: 287–299.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. van Buuren, J., T. Smit, G. Poot & A. van Elteren, 2002. Testing of indicators for the marine and coastal environment in Europe. Part 1: Eutrophication and integrated coastal zone management. European Environment Agency. EEA Technical Report 84: 48.Google Scholar
  58. Vaquer-Sunyer, R. & C. M. Duarte, 2008. Thresholds of hypoxia for marine biodiversity. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 105: 15452–15457.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  59. Vaquer-Sunyer, R. & C. M. Duarte, 2010. Sulfide exposure accelerates hypoxia-driven mortality. Limnology and Oceanography 55: 1075–1082.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  60. Verdonschot, P. F. M., B. M. Spears, C. K. Feld, S. Brucet, H. Keizer-Vlek, A. Borja, M. Elliott, M. Kernan & R. K. Johnson, 2012. A comparative review of recovery processes in rivers, lakes, estuarine and coastal waters. Hydrobiologia. doi: 10.1007/s10750-012-1294-7.Google Scholar
  61. Wade, A. J., P. G. Whitehead & L. C. M. O’Shea, 2002. The prediction and management of aquatic nitrogen pollution across Europe: an introduction to the Integrated Nitrogen in European Catchments project (INCA). Hydrology and Earth System Sciences 6: 299–313.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  62. Winder, M. & D. E. Schindler, 2005. Climate change uncouples trophic interactions in an aquatic ecosystem. Ecology 85: 2100–2106.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  63. Winfield, I. J., M. Emmrich, J. Guillard, T. Mehner & A. Rustadbakken, 2011. Guidelines for standardisation of hydroacoustic methods. WISER deliverable 3.4-3.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  • Daniel Hering
    • 1
    Email author
  • Angel Borja
    • 2
  • Laurence Carvalho
    • 3
  • Christian K. Feld
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Aquatic EcologyUniversity of Duisburg-EssenEssenGermany
  2. 2.Marine Research DivisionAZTI-TecnaliaPasaiaSpain
  3. 3.Centre for Ecology & HydrologyMidlothianUK

Personalised recommendations