Stream Ecology Group
Stream Ecology Group
The goal of the Stream Ecology Group is to understand the anthropogenic impacts on stream biodiversity and ecosystem functioning. We achieve this goal principally by field-based studies (in-situ experiments or surveys). In individual projects, we test these questions also in other freshwater ecosystems including lakes and water-filled tree holes. With our projects, we aim at contributing to conservation and management of these endangered ecosystems.

(see below for current and past group members, current and past projects and open positions)

Group Members

Andreas Bruder (Group Leader, Senior Scientist)

Thibaut Rota (Post-doc at SUPSI and WSL)

Bassem Balbool (FCS Scientist)

Rebecca Oester (PhD-Student at SUPSI, eawag and University of Zürich)

Francesca Cerroti (PhD-Student at SUPSI, WSL and ETH Zürich)

Ali Reza Esmaeili (visiting Post-doc of Isfahan University of Technology)

Red Calore (MSc-Student at SUPSI and University of Lausanne)

Mojgan Zare (FCS Post-doc)

Pejman Fathi (FCS Post-doc)

Grace Kotnik (MSc-Student at University of Geneva)

Current Projects

Aquatic fungal biodiversity: developing knowledge and strategies to inform conservation priorities and measures (FUNACTION). Currently entirely neglected in all major conservation action plans, aquatic fungi play crucial roles in aquatic food webs and ecosystem functioning. Though tiny in size, they are the dominant microbial decomposers of litter from terrestrial plants in streams and lakes but also interact with planktonic algae and play many other roles. Together with ecologists from Estonia, Germany, Italy, Sweden,  and Portugal we will determine what drives diversity patterns of aquatic fungi and whether aquatic fungi already receive effective protection within Europe’s protected area network. We will also develop protocols for long-term monitoring of aquatic fungi in Europe to promote and ensure sustainable conservation measures. We will work towards these conservation goals with the support from the IUCN Global Center for Species Survival and the IUCN Red List, Key Biodiversity Area and Freshwater programmes. Partners involved: Jennifer Anderson (SLU Uppsala, Sweden), Isabel Fernandes (CBMA, University of Minho, Portugal),  Hans-Peter Grossart (IGB Berlin, Germany), Laura Garzoli (CNR Verbania, Italy), Leho Tedersoo (University of Tartu, Estonia), Monika Böhm (GCSS, Indiana Zoo, USA). Duration: 2023-2026

Multitrophic and multispatial biodiversity-ecosystem functioning relationships under multiple stressors in natural freshwater microcosms (MULTIBEF). Freshwater biodiversity is declining at a fast rate in many regions of the world. This has consequences on ecosystem processes and the services they provide to humanity. These consequences might be shaped by different facets of biodiversity and its spatial organization. In this project, we use water-filled tree holes as study systems in several field experiments to understand BEF-relationships at different levels of biological organisation (intra-specific, α-diversity, β-diversity, meta-communities) and how they are affected by spatial scale and climate change stressors. Funding bodies: Swiss National Science Foundation. Group members involved: Thibaut Rota, Francesca Cerroti, Red Calore, Andreas Bruder. Project Partners: Prof. Dr. Martin Gossner (WSL), Dr. Isabel Fernandes (UMinho), Dr. K. S. Anoop Das (M.E.S. Mampad College), Dr. Gustavo Romero (Uni Campìnas). Duration: 2021-2025

Developing bioindicators for the Karun River, Iran, based on macroinvertebrate and fish communities. The Karun is the biggest river system in Iran, draining the Zagros mountain range in the south-west of the country. Its ecosystems are increasingly threatened by rural, agricultural and aquacultural development. With this project, in collaboration with the Isfahan University of Technology, we develop bioindicators based on 53 sites sampled in four seasons in 2018/2019 to support management of this unique river and its ecosystems. Funding bodies: Swiss Leading House South Asia and Iran and Iranian Ministry of Science, Research and Technology. Group members involved: Pejman Fathi, Mojgan Zare, Ali Reza Esmaeili, Andreas Bruder. Project partners: Dr. Eisa Ebrahimi IUT. Duration: 2018-2023. The project has been endorsed by the swissuniversities Centre for Development and Cooperation.

Testing the consequences of degradation of riparian forest on detritus-based food webs in temperate and neotropical streams. Degradation of riparian vegetation is a common consequence of agricultural and forestry activities. Because detritus-based food webs in streams are intimately linked to organic matter inputs from the riparian vegetation, they are severely impacted by its degradation. In this project, in collaboration with the University of Vila Velha in Brazil, we aim to understand these impacts with a food-web perspective and explore the importance of changes in various biodiversity metrics. The project has a specific outreach component with stakeholder workshops in Brazil and Switzerland. Funding bodies: Swiss National Science Foundation and Brazilian National Council for Scientific and Technological Development. Group members involved: Rebecca Oester, Mathilde Laurent, Andreas Bruder. Project Partners: Prof. Marcelo S. Moretti UVV, Prof. Florian Altermatt eawag/UZH. Duration: 2020-2024

Exploring the marvellous diversity of aquatic hyphomycetes. Aquatic hyphomycetes are the main microbial decomposers of organic matter entering stream food webs from the riparian vegetation. We have recently also detected them in water-filled tree holes. Despite their importance for ecosystem processes, which also depends on various aspects of biodiversity, knowledge on their biodiversity and biogeography is still incomplete and they are not considered in conservation planning (see projects above). With projects in this topic, we aim at describing the biodiversity of aquatic hyphomycetes from local to continental scales and along altitudinal gradients using established and novel molecular approaches coupled with traditional mycological techniques. Funding bodies: Fondazione Bolle di Magadino, Swiss Federal Office for the Environment, Swiss National Park. Group members involved: Julien Cornut, Bassem Balbool, Andreas Bruder. Project Partners: Dr. Isabel Fernandes (UMinho), Gabriele Consoli (eawag), Dr. Sophie De Respinis IM. Duration: 2015 - retirement.

Ecomorphology and ecosystem functioning of lake shores (Lake Lugano). Lake Lugano is a peri-alpine lake in southern Switzerland and northern Italy that is experiencing a range of anthropogenic impacts, including urban, industrial, and agricultural development. With projects in this topic, we aim at understanding the role of shoreline ecomorphology on the distribution of novel pollutants (i.e. microplastics) and on biodiversity of key organism groups and crucial ecosystem functions (i.e. organic matter processing and secondary production) on the aquatic-terrestrial ecotones and in reed stands. Findings from these projects will feed into guidelines for shoreline management by CIPAIS and the regional administrations. Funding bodies: International Commission for the Protection of Italian-Swiss Waters (CIPAIS). Group members involved: Giorgia Frei, Sabrina Lötscher, Laura Thomas-Sleiman, Andreas Bruder. Project Partners: Dr. Sandro Peduzzi DTI, Dr. Serge Stoll UNIGE. Duration: 2019-2024


Past group members

Giorgia Frei (MSc student and research assistant at SUPSI 2019-2022): Giorgia performed research projects on microplastic contamination of lakeshores and soils, and on biodiversity and ecosystem functioning of reed stands. She started her independent consultancy.

Hamid Reza Bolok Yazdi (Post-doc at SUPSI 2021-2022): Hamid isolated and tested endophytic fungi from submerged roots and leaves in small streams. He moved back to Iran.

Astrid Rutzer (MSc student at SUPSI and Uni Basel 2021-2022): Astrid performed a field experiment on the effects of waste-water effluents on gammarid and fungal decomposers of leaves. She moved to Sustainserv Gmbh, Zürich for an internship. 

Jessica Colombo (intern 2022): Jessica worked with Rebecca on her project on consequences of riparian vegetation changes on stream macroinvertebrate communities. She moved on to an internship in SUPSIs Institute of Earth Sciences.

Meesha Katyal (exchange MSc student 2021): Meesha carried out lab experiments to study the stress physiology of aquatic hyphomycetes. She moved back to India to finish her MSc program at the Indian Institute of Science Education and Research.

Sabrina Lötscher (research assistant 2020-2021): Sabrina led projects on fungal biodiversity and ecosystem funtioning of lake shores and on concepts to evaluate and monitor restoration of lake shores using Lake Lugano as a case study.

Mathilde Laurent (intern from AgroSUP Dijon 2021): During her three month internship, Mathilde worked on our project on the consequences of degradation of riparian forest on detritus-based food webs in streams. She learned to identify, measure and analyse macroinvertebrates. She moved back to Dijon to finish her studies in agronomy.

Laura Thomas-Sleiman (BSc student and intern 2020-2021): Laura studied the potential for microorganisms to degrade plastic in the environment in her Bachelor project. She then started her master studies in Biodiversity, Ecology, and Evolution at Sorbonne University, Paris. She returned to our group for an internship in spring 2021 in which she mainly worked on microscopic identification of stream macroinvertebrates.

Liam O'Reilly (PostDoc 2020-2021): Liam studied the effects of fluctuations in atmospheric electric charge on microorganisms and macroinvertebrate behaviour and physiology in freshwater and terrestrial study systems. He performed mainly laboratory experiments and meta-analyses. He continues these studies as a postdoc with Ellard Hunting and Daniel Robert at University of Bristol.

Gabriele Consoli (MSc-Student 2015-2016): Gabriele's thesis (published here) on "Quantifying and predicting the effects of water abstraction on macroinvertebrate fauna and ecosystem function in alpine streams" elucidated the effects of hydropower dams on stream ecosystems based on fieldwork in two streams in the Val Blenio, Ticino. Gabriele moved on to do a PhD in Chris Robinsons group at eawag.

Julien Cornut (PostDoc 2015-2016): Julien was leading the initial projects on the diversity of aquatic hyphomycetes in various small and unimpacted streams in Ticino. He moved on to a PostDoc-position at MARE in Coimbra, Portugal.

Past Projects

Effects of variation in atmospheric electricity on microbial ecology at Lake Cadagno. The electric charge of the atmosphere varies with a daily rhythm. This has consequences on the activity of microbes and invertebrates living in ecosystems and interacting with the ions surrounding them. With measurements and experiments in various habitats of Lake Cadagno in Val Piora, we aim at elucidating these understudied links between the atmosphere and aquatic ecosystems and how these links are affected by human activities, e.g. the use of agrochemicals. Funding bodies: Swiss National Science Foundation. Group members involved: Liam O’Reilly, Andreas Bruder. Project Partners: Dr. Ellard Hunting (PI) Uni Bristol. Duration: 2020-2021

Hydropeaking effects on stream ecosystems

Hydropower production based on high-altitude reservoirs cause extreme discharge fluctuations in receiving rivers. This phenomenon, called hydropeaking, results in extremely fast changes of habitat conditions in river ecosystems with drastic consequences on its biota. Current environmental legislation addresses this issue but its implementation lacks experience and case studies. Based on metaanalyses of data and experiences from case studies of hydropeaking impact assessments and mitigation projects we provided expertise to the Swiss Federal Office for the Environment for the development of their guidelines. Group members involved: Gabriele Consoli, Andreas Bruder. Duration: 2017

Open Positions

We are looking for group members that have a passion for applied freshwater ecology. To fit the group, they should have a grounded and independent personality while being curious for the natural world and its phenomena. Students are welcome to approach Andreas Bruder to discuss possibilities to develop a BSc or MSc project in any of the research activities of the group. Specifically, we have the following open positions, which include flexibility for development/adaptation of research questions based on the student’s interests:


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