Project groups


River ecosystems suffer three fold from climate change: (1) They are exposed to the local environmental temperature rise, which is roughly 0,7°C worldwide, but higher regionally; (2) they additionally suffer from effluents, such as thermal power station effluents; (3) they become more susceptible to high daytime insolation at low water levels, which itself is the result of increased water usage as well as reducing supply form glaciers and snow covers in the mountains. These changes in environmental factors meet an enhanced exchange of biota and a fast species turnover with population genetic instabilities.

We hypothesize that the increasing numbers of invasive species and modifications of the endemic species and genotype compositions are shaped by the increased water body temperatures, which often lie around 1-3°C in many Central European rivers, compared to preindustrial times, and by altered hydrological and hydraulic regimes. This is especially important in rivers with heavy ship traffic, where invasive species comprise up to more than 90% of the biomass.

Our studies combine field measurements, laboratory data and modelling. We focus on selected species, such as invsive amphipods and fish species.

St. Goar
Figure: The River Rhine not only shows increased temperatures, but also more extreme water levels. The photo was taken in May 2011, when the water exhibited a historical low spring level. The river landscape is nearly mediterranean, and the biocoenosis dominated by invasive and thermotolerant species. (Photo near St. Goar, by B. Streit, May 7, 2011)


Bierbach, D., Penshorn, M., Hamfler, S., Herbert, D., Appel, J., Meyer, P., Slattery, P., Charaf, S., Wolf, R.R., Völker, J., Amberger, E., Dröge, J., Wolf, K., Riesch, R., Arias-Rodriguez, L., Indy, J.R. & M. Plath (2013) : Gradient Evolution of Body Colouration in Surface- and Cave-Dwelling Poecilia mexicana and the Role of Phenotype-Assortative Female Mate Choice. - BioMed Research International: Evolutionary Biology: 148348.

Bierbach, D., Sassmannshausen, V., Streit, B., Arias-Rodriguez, L. & M. Plath (2013) : Females prefer males with superior fighting abilities but avoid sexually harassing winners when eavesdropping on male fights. - Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology 67: 675-683.

Chen, W., Bierbach, D., Plath, M., Streit, B. & S. Klaus (2012) : Distribution of amphipod communities in the Middle to Upper Rhine and five of its tributaries. - BioInvasions Records 1: 263-271.

Lerp H, Plath M, Wronski T, Bärmann EV, Malczyk A, Resch RR, Gasmy AA, Pfenninger M (2014) : Utility of island populations in reintroduction programs---relationships between Arabian gazelles (Gazella arabica) from the Farasan Archipelago and endangered mainland populations. Molecular Ecology 23, 1910-1922, doi: 10.1111/mec.12694

Weigand A.M. • The Volkswagen Foundation Lake Malawi Field School 2012 Consortium • Plath M. (2013) : Prey preferences in captivity of the freshwater crab Potamonautes lirrangensis from Lake Malawi with Special emphasis on molluscivory. Hydrobiologia DOI 10.1007/s10750-013-1705-4