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New campaign to shed light into the hidden world of microbial life in our rivers

June 4, 2013

Freshwater biodiversity ranges from the giant Mekong catfish to the myriad microscopic aquatic lifeforms. But these tiny examples of freshwater life seldom receive attention. In this guest post, Katja Lehmann, a microbial ecologist with the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, joins BioFresh to discuss a new campaign called River Sampling Day to help us learn more about these important microbial freshwater organisms.  RSD logo copy River microbes are at the heart of many essential ecosystem services, playing important roles in the cycling of nutrients and carbon, maintaining water quality and the clean-up of pollution in our waterways. Despite the importance of microbial diversity in rivers, these microscopic bacterial communities are greatly under-researched. The lack of comprehensive data prevents us from fully understanding even basic processes.

Katja Lehmann in the lab at the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology.

Katja Lehmann in the lab.

What, for example, are the main actors influencing microbial communities in rivers? Do river microbial communities differ from river to river or are there clear patterns? Can we determine the nature of the river by looking at its biofilm? How do pollutants in run-off and sewage effluent change river bacterial communities? And, does pollution damage riverine communities – and ourselves –  by breeding riverine ‘superbacteria’?

To help address this gap in knowledge and pose answers to some of these question, we are launching River Sampling Day (RSD), a simultaneous sampling campaign of the world’s rivers. River Sampling Day will be held on the solstices with the first ever pilot event to be held on June 21, 2013. River Sampling Day is a sister initiative to Ocean Sampling Day, the global marine sampling campaign which is part of the EU-funded Micro B3.

The River Sampling Day event aims to build a network of collaborators which we hope will form the core of an international freshwater Genomic Observatories Network.
 We aim to use the data generated to develop an index of ‘indigenous’ to ‘transient’ bacteria to serve as a potential predictor of river health, as well as to develop an Ecological Niche Modelling approach in collaboration with BioVEL, a virtual e-laboratory that supports biodiversity research.

A sampling site in Oxford.

A sampling site in Oxford.

For the June solstice water and sediment samples will be collected from various locations to analyse for microbial diversity and function. We currently have a list of 45 locations from Oxfordshire to Australia – and counting – and we would like to invite external researchers to join the River Sampling Day.

River sampling in action.

River sampling in action.

Ideally, all the samples should be taken between 10.00 and 14.00 GMT on the solstices. If this is not possible, researchers should contact us for alternative arrangements. The sampling itself should take approximately 20 minutes per sampling location. We supply the sampling protocol and also have a limited number of sampling kits available for sites that do not have any microbial sampling expertise.

If you are associated with a river research site or other regular river research activity and would like to participate in the River Sampling Day pilot study please register by clicking here.

For any questions please email

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