Real-time biological early-warning system based on freshwater mussels’ valvometry data

Pilbala, Ashkan; Riccardi, Nicoletta; Benistati, Nina; Modesto, Vanessa; Termini, Donatella; Manca, Dario; Benigni, Augusto; Corradini, Cristiano; Lazzarin, Tommaso; Moramarco, Tommaso; Fraccarollo, Luigi; Piccolroaz, Sebastiano

Quantifying the effects of external climatic and anthropogenic stressors on aquatic ecosystems is an important task for scientific purposes and management progress in the field of water resources. In this study, we propose an innovative use of biotic communities as real-time indicators, which offers a promising solution to directly quantify the impact of these external stressors on the aquatic ecosystem health. Specifically, we investigated the influence of natural river floods on riverine biotic communities using freshwater mussels (FMs) as reliable biosensors. Using the valvometry technique, we monitored the valve gaping of FMs and analysed both the amplitude and frequency. The valve movement of the FMs was tracked by installing a magnet on one valve and a Hall effect sensor on the other valve. The magnetic field between the magnet and the sensor was recorded using an Arduino board, and its changes over time were normalised to give the opening percentage of the FMs (how open the mussels were). The recorded data were then analysed using continuous wavelet transform (CWT) analysis to study the time-dependent frequency of the signals. The experiments were carried out both in a laboratory flume and in the Paglia River (Italy). The laboratory experiments were conducted with FMs in two configurations: freely moving on the bed and immobilised on vertical rods. Testing of the immobilised configuration was necessary because the same configuration was used in the field in order to prevent FMs from packing against the downstream wall of the protection cage during floods or from breaking their connection wires. These experiments allowed us to verify that immobilised mussels show similar responses to abrupt changes in flow conditions as free mussels. Moreover, immobilised mussels produced more neat and interpretable signals than free-moving mussels due to the reduced number of features resulting from movement constraints. We then analysed the response of 13 immobilised mussels under real river conditions during a flood on 31 March 2022. The FMs in the field showed a rapid and significant change in valve gap frequency as the flood escalated, confirming the general behaviour observed in the laboratory in the presence of an abrupt increase in the flow. These results highlight the effectiveness of using FMs as biosensors for the timely detection of environmental stressors related to natural floods and emphasise the utility of CWT as a powerful signal-processing tool for the analysis of valvometry data. The study proposes the integration of FM valvometry and CWT for the development of operational real-time biological early-warning systems (BEWSs) with the aim of monitoring and protecting aquatic ecosystems. Future research should focus on extending the investigation of the responsiveness of FMs to specific stressors (e.g. turbidity, temperature, and chemicals) and on testing the applications of the proposed BEWSs to quantify the impact of both natural stressors (e.g. heat waves and droughts) andpage2298 anthropogenic stressors (e.g. hydropeaking, reservoir flushing, and chemical contamination).

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Pilbala, Ashkan / Riccardi, Nicoletta / Benistati, Nina / et al: Real-time biological early-warning system based on freshwater mussels’ valvometry data. 2024. Copernicus Publications.

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