Research within the BELCA Research Topic aims to identify, understand and predict the biological and ecological disturbances to an aquatic environment caused by chemical contamination resulting from human activities.
This objective is divided into several biological levels (sub-cellular, individual, population, community) and several levels of chemical exposure complexity (from an isolated contaminant to actual exposure in the aquatic environment). Ultimately the work should lead to the development of operational tools for assessing the quality of aquatic environments subjected to chemical pressures and methods for estimating ecotoxicological risk.
Context and social issues
The last ten years have seen a plethora of laws and regulations related to the management of toxins in aquatic environments: The Water Framework Directive (2000/60/CE) and its implementing provisions (daughter directive on priority substances, 2008), the REACH regulations (1998-2008), and the French Environment Round Table (decisions of 2008 and 2009). While their results are still only fragmentary, scientists have clearly been challenged by public opinion and political activists on the environmental- and health-related risks arising from the chemical pollution of aquatic environments. What are the long-term impacts of chemical contamination on freshwater ecosystem populations and communities? How to predict the substances? What tools should be developed to predict and measure the chemical and ecological state of watercourses under multiple stressors?
Question and scientific issues
Chemical contamination of aquatic environments that have an anthropogenic origin is characterised by the multiplicity of substances (both organic and inorganic) and their transformation products that are present in the water and in its substrates. Its impact on biological organisms depends on environmental conditions (the future, bioavailability).
In this environment organisms are subjected to multiple stressors that add to chemical contamination and physical (habitat) and biological (parasites, predators, etc.) factors, all of which will also affect the ecological communities’ response.
In the current state of knowledge, tools for assessing and managing environmental quality are based on contamination levels caused most often by single substances and assessments of the abundance of communities (bioindication). However, even if the individual responses to chemical contaminants can be observed under experimental conditions more or less realistically and sometimes directly in the field, the community response to chemical contamination is, in general, more difficult to establish. Also, to try and establish the link between chemical pressures and the consequent biological responses at the community level, it is necessary to increase our understanding of biological responses and the factors affecting their variability at different levels of biological organisation and under multiple stressors. Also, it requires improvements in the way that exposure of biota is assessed, taking account of their spatio-temporal concentration variability and of biotic and abiotic transformations and bioavailability.
The Research Topic’s activities are structured around several key areas that define the main analysis scales for the response of aquatic biological communities to anthropogenic chemical pressures.
- Understanding contaminants’ mechanisms of action
The aim is to develop tools that are sensitive to the model organisms that are representative of the communities. The intended effects must account for substances’ modes of action at concentrations observed in real-life environments.
- Biological responses to toxins in the aquatic environment
Based principally on knowledge and methods developed under the previous heading, this addresses the response mechanism of organisms and their population to chemical pressure in a receiving environment. Also, tools need to be developed for diagnosing the impact of chemicals on organisms in the environment by incorporating exposure variability and contaminant bioavailability.
- Structure and functioning of aquatic communities under chemical pressure
The challenge is to identify, within the structure and functioning of microbial communities, algae and invertebrates, disturbances that result from anthropic chemical pressure, and attempting to characterise the relevant descriptors of the community (whether under chemical pressure or not), to identify the environment’s dominant parameters (geochemical, hydrodynamic, trophic, toxic), and the role of inter-and intraspecific interactions.
Make-up of the team
The team is 56 strong. Of these 15 are researchers of various kinds and 41 are support staff. They are divided into 5 teams working on activities within the Research Topic.
Since its inception, 13 doctoral theses have been submitted and 11 are currently (2011) in preparation. Furthermore, 15 postdoctoral researchers have worked on national, international or internal projects within the Research Topic.
The research teams
The research work is carried out by several teams based in three research units, in Antony, Bordeaux and Lyon:
- Laboratory for physicochemical analyses of aquatic environments (LAMA, UR MAEP Lyon)
- Laboratory for microbial ecology of man-made river systems (EMHA, UR MAEP Lyon)
- Laboratory for ecotoxicology of freshwater ecosystems (UR MAEP Lyon)
- Team for anthropogenic contamination and responses of aquatic environments (CARMA, UR REBX Bordeaux)
- Team for bioavailability and biological effects (UR HBAN Antony)
- Microbiology laboratory
- Aquatic environment, ecology and pollution
- Water networks, purification and quality
- River systems and bioprocesses
List of competitive tender projects (Titles) from 2008 (+ links to URLs or teams) List of “structural” partnership projects
Irstea partnership agreements are in place with ONEMA (French National Office for Water and Aquatic Environments) and estuary agencies. Together with ONEMA, the Research Topic contributes to work on the quality of large bodies of water, on the restoration of aquatic environments and on pollutants. Scientists working on this research also collaborate with ANSES (French Agency for Food, Environmental and Occupational Health and Safety), particularly on implementing the REACH directive.
The Research Topic has many scientific partnerships, both national and international (University of Girona in Spain, St. Lawrence Centre in Montreal, à compléter XXXXXX).
In the areas to which it contributes (analytical and environmental chemistry, biology, ecotoxicology, microbial ecology, ecology), the Research Topic works with many university laboratories (UCB Lyon, Universities of Lorraine, Champagne Ardennes, Bordeaux 1, à compléter XXXXXX)
Main graduate schools with links to the Research Topic
- ED E2M2 (Modelling the growth of microbiological ecosystems) ED 341, Lyon 1 (lien avec page ED ?: http://umr5558-mq1.univ-lyon1.fr/newsite/ )
- ED CPE (Chemistry, processes, environment) ED 206, Lyon1
- EDSC-(Graduate School of Chemical Sciences), ED 40, Bordeaux 1
- ED GRN (Geosciences and natural resources) ED 398, Paris 6
- ED RP2E (Resource Processing, Environmental Products) (ED 410)
- Ile de France Federation of Environmental Research, members of the Seine PIREN (Interdisciplinary Research Programme on the Seine’s Environment)
- The Institute of Analytical Sciences at Lyon
- The Rhone-Alpes Environment Research Network: ARC Environnement
- LABEX (Laboratory of Excellence)
Three major industrial partnerships are aimed at transferring the Research Topic’s technology into the socioeconomic sphere: EDF (contaminated sediments upstream of hydroelectric dams, river discharge cooling systems contaminated with zinc and copper), VEOLIA (tools and chemical, ecotoxicological and ecological indicators to assess river quality) and Suez Environnement (toxic waste downstream of wastewater processing plants).
In Europe and the world
The Research Topic's activities in standardising biological indices have, for many years, been well established in the European scientific community. Research in chemistry and ecotoxicology benefits the networks created by the REMPHARMAWATER, ERAPharm and NORMAN European projects, as well as interactions with those currently working in the PEER network.
The Research Topic contributes to SETAC (Society of Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry) via its annual conference (written communications and presentations, chairing sessions) and to its technical publications (Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry, Integrated Environmental Assessment and Management).
Cemagref and the Research Topic held the chair of the Euraqua network for two years (2009-2011).