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An interdisciplinary approach to tackling major water issues


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Microscopic ‘Saturn of the Moors’ discovered

Interview and article by Sarah Reed, University of Leeds Press Officer

A species of alga that resembles the planet Saturn has been discovered for the first time in the British Isles.

The algal species, which is classified as Saturnella saturnus, was discovered by PhD student Jeannie Beadle from the School of Geography at the University of Leeds. Her research looks at pools of water created by peatland restoration measures in the Pennines, such as drain-blocking, with this particular find coming from Moor House-Upper Teesdale Nature Reserve in March 2014.

Saturn of the moors

“I’m really pleased to have shown that drain-blocking is genuinely helping biodiversity. It’s evidence like this which helps land managers to justify the money spent on peatland restoration measures,” said Beadle.

After World War II, many peatlands in the UK were drained using shallow ditches with the aim of drying out the peat to make it more suitable for forestry and land grazing animals.  However, the process has since been shown to be largely ineffective and also damaging to peatland ecosystems.

The blocking of drainage ditches began in the 1980s in an attempt to restore the peatlands to their former boggy state, with most of the pools being created in the last decade or so, when restoration programmes became more widespread.

Beadle concludes: “As well as looking at algae, I’ve sampled about 150 artificial pools for macroinvertebrates, which I’m currently sorting and identifying, so there may be further interesting discoveries later this year. However, I doubt any will be as beautiful as this Saturn of the Moors.”

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Killer shrimps are out there – so watch out…

By Lucy Anderson (Faculty of Biological Sciences)

The critter in my hand certainly looks harmless enough. At a mere 2cm long, it’s incredible to think it has the potential to wipe out native fish and invertebrate populations thanks to its voracious appetite. But this isn’t any old shrimp. This is the killer shrimp (Dikerogammarus villosus) and over the past ten years it’s made its way from the Caspian Sea to Grafham Water in Cambridgeshire as I’ve just explained to a BBC film crew.

Killer shrimp in the UK (Image courtesy of Steve Rocliffe)

Killer shrimp in the UK (Image courtesy of Steve Rocliffe)

Invasive alien species like the killer shrimp, American signal crayfish and zebra mussel pose a major threat to biodiversity across the globe. They can out-compete native species for food and habitat, introduce new diseases and damage infrastructure costing the UK alone £1.7 billion per year to manage. Seven out of ten of the Environment Agency’s “most wanted” invasive species are found in freshwater environments. That’s because rivers and lakes are exposed to a lot of pathways by which new invaders can be introduced. They can be transported in the ballast water of ships, be released from ponds or aquaria, or hitchhike on the equipment used by recreational water users, to name but a few.

Invasive species have been making the headlines in recent weeks because of a pioneering piece of legislation which has recently been approved by MEPs in Brussels. At the moment, the management of invasive species is rather disparate across Europe. It’s currently up to each EU member state to manage the invasive species within its boundaries, so all the work done in one country to prevent invaders could be undermined by a neighbouring country which does far less, or focuses its management on different species.

Invasive species hit the headlines (Image courtesy of Steve Rocliffe)

Invasive species hit the headlines (Image courtesy of Steve Rocliffe)

The new legislation aims to change that. For the first time, member states will have to abide by a consistent set of laws to prevent and control invasive species. Preventing the introduction of invasive species in the first place is particularly important, because once these species arrive and establish, they’re almost impossible to eradicate. By improving surveillance at borders, transport and trade routes, the risk of invasive species accidentally entering EU countries can be reduced and the likelihood of detecting and managing new species before they have an opportunity to cause damage can be improved.

We’ve been investigating one such pathway for the spread of invasive species here at the University of Leeds. A survey we conducted with 1500 anglers and canoeists across the UK revealed that around 50% of respondents did not clean their kit before moving to a new catchment. The results (described in this paper) are rather alarming because invasive species like the killer shrimp can survive for up to a fortnight in the damp fold of a wader or crevice of a boat so they could potentially survive in the journey from one site to another.

Thankfully, biosecurity actions are improving among these groups. A lot of environmental NGOs are backing the Check Clean Dry campaign which aims to raise awareness of invasive species and improve biosecurity among water sports enthusiasts.

So next time you take a trip down to the river, remember to check, clean and dry your boots and any equipment that you use in the water. That wriggling shrimp on your welly might look harmless enough but – as we’ve learned from the killer shrimp — looks can be deceiving.

Check, clean and dry your boots and equipment (Image courtesy of Steve Rocliffe)

Check, clean and dry your boots and equipment (Image courtesy of Steve Rocliffe)