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Meet the BioFresh team: Daniel Hering

October 31, 2011

Tagliamento River in North-East Italy showing impressive riparian zones. Image: D Hering

We continue our series of interviews with BioFresh partners this week with Prof. Daniel Hering from the University of Duisburg-Essen in Germany.  Prof. Hering is the coordinator of several national and international projects on Water Framework Directive implementation and river restoration.  He leads BioFresh Work Package 6, which aims to understand how freshwater biodiversity will respond to stresses such as climate change.

1 What is the focus of your work with BioFresh, and why?

My colleagues and I compare the responses of biota to stress between different freshwater ecosystem types. In the past we have analysed how fish, invertebrates, higher plants and algae respond to different types of stress in rivers. In BioFresh, we are adding a “third dimension” by comparing organism groups in lakes, rivers, ponds, riparian wetlands and potentially in groundwaters.

2 How is your work relevant to policy makers, conservationists and/or the general public?

Our previous work was mainly dedicated to the implementation of a European policy, the Water Framework Directive, and thus of direct policy relevance. BioFresh, as a whole, is much broader, with components of basic science and a strong dissemination target. Our work in BioFresh has implications for restoring and protecting European freshwater ecosystems, as we compare how biota react to different types of stressors (nutrient enrichment, organic pollution, habitat degradation, acidification, temperature increase) and the drivers causing these stressors.

For rivers in large parts of Europe it is obvious that current agricultural practises are a main threat to aquatic ecosystems and their biota.  Agriculture is increasingly competing with freshwater ecosystems for water, in intensively used areas corn if often planted close to the river shores, leading to inputs of fine sediments, pesticides and nutrients. Protection and restoration of freshwater biota (and also the targets of the Water Framework Directive) will not be achievable without some of agricultural practises at least in the riparian zones.

3 Why is the BioFresh project important?

Still, many scientists (and also many conservationists) are reluctant to share their data. In certain cases, there might be good reasons for being reluctant: e.g. the fear of wrongly interpreted complex and sensitive data. However, as a whole, this attitude is an obstacle for the advancement of science. In the field of freshwater biodiversity a lot is invested in monitoring rivers and lakes; the data, however, are not centrally stored, often even not on a national level, and are thus not available for scientists and conservation groups. I think that BioFresh can contribute to changing this attitude – at least, BioFresh is collating a lot of data and making them publicly available. This is a showcase – and hopefully a starting point for a constantly growing portal.

Beaver dam in a small mountain stream in Western Germany. Image: D Hering

4 Tell us about a memorable experience in your scientific career.

Always the meetings with species I had never seen before: beavers (used to work about beaver ponds for about a year before I had seen one), spawning salmon (big fish in small streams are fascinating), beetle species for which I had searched a long time (Bembidion eques at the Tagliamento river in Italy) or caddis larvae with unusual cases.

5  What inspired you to become a scientist?

I am fascinated by animals and plants.

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