Libmonster ID: RU-17176
Author(s) of the publication: Gennady ROSENBERG

by Gennady ROSENBERG, Corresponding Member of the Russian Academy of Sciences, Director of the RAS Institute of Ecology of the Volga Basin (Togliatti)

The Volga is the longest and the most full-flowing river of Europe, important for the economic development of Russia's biggest region. How do the river and the whole Volga basin are faring?

The situation is a function of many factors.

They have been taken into account by the designers of our expert information system that has collected and evaluated a huge array of ecological and economic parameters.

Middle and lower reaches of the Volga. Space photo.

Science in Russia, No.4, 2011

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Statistical information helps visualize the scale of this search object. Here are some data. The length of the Volga (in fact, Russia's "main street") is 3,500 km, with as many as 2,600 rivers and rivulets flowing into it. The Volga brings near 250 km3 of water to the Caspian Sea annually. Its basin stretches for 1,910 km from north to south and for 1,805 km (in the upper reaches) from west to east, and its total area is 1,36 mln km2 (62 percent of the European part of our country). Today more than 40 percent of Russia's population lives there, and 45 percent of industrial production and 50 percent of agricultural is there as well.

Unfortunately plants and factories on the Volga's banks use the river as a free bin for waste waters. Annually 20 percent of the effluents are flown into it and its tributaries. Almost 30 percent of the total discharge of harmful substances gets into the atmosphere of the Volga region's populous cities. Still another ecological factor: in the late nineteen-hundreds this area was the site of 26 problem-solving nuclear explosions for peaceful purposes (geared toward of the national economy), that is nearly 20 percent of their total number made in the Soviet Union. The result of this persisting load is a steady pollution of water and bottom sediments.

The Volga's bed and its tributaries are located in lowlands and only in some places the river goes across highlands (for example, the Samara bend near the Zhiguli Mountains). And the flat lay of land determined the area of flooding during the construction of a series of hydroelectric power plants. The appearance of dams on the Volga (there are 11 of them, the length of all reservoirs is 3,000 km, their total volume is 144 km3, with over 20,000 km of fertile flood-plain lands under water) led to the transformation of the former natural river ecosystem into an anthropogenic, largely lacustrine one. The dams cause all the "dirt" of the catchment area to be washed off into the river during spring freshets and summer-autumn showers over dozens of years.

This transformation and its aftereffects are actually a great ecological catastrophe that has drastically changed the local environment. The regulated water course is a follow-up of hydrotechnical facilities (dams, water intakes) built there as well as pollution and excessive fishing; all this has led to a significant decrease in the amount and quality of takes. The most valuable species of sturgeons, herrings and salmon are gone, and the migration conditions of those still there have changed. Their upstream movement for spawning is held up by dams that are putting an end to

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natural reproduction, while the fish going downstream die in the turbines of hydroelectric power stations and reservoirs.

Here's one example of negative evolution. In 1920 Viktor Meisner, a famous specialist in the sphere of fish breeding, wrote: just starlet catches in the middle reaches of the Volga in 1913 amounted to as much as 16,500 centners (1,650 tons). Thirty-five years later the same stretch of the river (within the future Kuibyshev Reservoir built in 1955-1957 after the construction of a dam at Zhiguli) had an average annual catch of different fish equal to 22,800 centners (2,280 tons), or about 24 kg per 1 hectare of the water surface. Fifty years later the catches were 3.5 times down again--7.3 kg/hectare, and in 2009 in the Kuibyshev reservoir as little as 2,900 centners (290 tons) of fish were caught (2.6 kg/hectare).

Water course regulation destroyed the reproductive system of anadromous fishes. In the 1950s after the building of a dam of the Volga Hydrostation (about 700 km north of the Caspian Sea) almost 100 percent of spawning grounds for the white salmon and beluga, 85 percent of those for the sturgeon and 70 percent of those for anadromous herrings were cut off. Only 400 hectares (a little above 10 percent) of 3,600 hectares of sturgeon natural spawning grounds remained. Moreover, there are throughput passages for fish only at two dams (the Volga and Saratov ones). Nevertheless, they

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are not efficient because the larger part of the overlying spawning grounds is silted and the sturgeons do not get through.

Modern large-scale water consumption results in the direct (the killing of small young fry in water intakes) and the indirect (because of habitat damage) destruction of these valuable species. Depending on the amount of water intake it destroys river and estuary ecosystems, spoils and even kills the biotic system of end lakes, that is of inland seas (in our case, the Caspian); it lowers the populations down to their extinction. That is why the monitoring of the effect of dams and water intakes on fish migration and reproduction is so important. So are the protective techniques and facilities. All that will contribute to sustainable ecological and economic development of the Volga area and Russia in general (such is the message of the UN Conference on Environment and Development held in Rio de Janeiro in 1992).

All this calls for competent administrative decisions. And the most important condition of their choice is adequate information on anthropogenic action on ecosystems, and knowledge of criteria for assessing their condition. Note that the problem of quantitative and qualitative criteria of sustainable development is considered so important that some countries (such as the USA, Great Britain, Belgium and others) have established special institutes dealing with the evaluation of such criteria.

In this context of special significance are methods of bioindication (examination of the quality of the natural environment relative to the composition and number of biota indicator species) and biomonitoring (system of control of condition of biological objects) allowing to spot a possible negative effect of different factors, for example, of regular pollution of water bodies by heavy metals, pesticides, radionuclides etc.). Only an integral approach will work for assessing sustainable development of territories of different scale.

A group of authors, representing RAS institutes of biological and ecological profile from Togliatti, Orenburg, Moscow and also from the Lobachevsky State Institute of Nizhni Novgorod has advanced theoretical fundamentals of sustainable development of ecological and economic systems; it has developed and introduced methods of bioindication and biomonitoring.

In the "Region" expert information system (designed by the author of this article and Vladimir Shitikov, Dr. Sc. (Biol.), of the RAS Institute of Ecology of the Volga Basin) a territorial dynamic model has been realized for the first time. It reflects the space-time structure, condition and correlations of individual elements of an ecosystem. An object of the analysis can be an administrative-territorial unit (city, region, republic) as well as any part of global surface (natural climatic zone, river basin etc.) selected in a formal or informal way. In our Institute we have created such expert systems for the Volga basin in general, for the Samara, Ulyanovsk and Nizhni Novgorod Regions, for the Republic of Bashkortostan, and also for the city of Togliatti and the quarry "Yablonevy Ovrag" within the national park "Samara Bend" near the Zhiguli Mountains.

In particular, a comprehensive assessment of the initial biological productivity of the Volga basin made for the first time at the end of the 20th century with the help of the above methods, and correlations thus obtained have made it possible to forecast changes in a greenhouse effect scenario. Thus, the level of bio-productivity of this territory will increase over the reference period (average values for the 20th century). Accordingly, in 2030 in the event of the mean temperature increase of 2 °C in July and 110 mm average

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Immigration dynamics of the Caspian sprat into the Volga basin's bodies of water.

annual precipitation increase, the gain will be 2.4 tons per hectare yearly, and in 2050, with the mean July temperature increase by 2.8 °C and the average annual precipitation by 170 mm the gain will be 3.4 tons per hectare yearly (or almost 30 percent more).

We have offered a new approach for assessing environmental health conditions (the project director of the "Biotest" program is Vladimir Zakharov, laboratory head of the Koltsov Institute of Development Biology, RAS Corresponding Member). In line with this approach we do not use ecosystem and population parameters (mostly productive characteristics) but rather the growth indices of different species. Homeostatic injury (with respect to morphogenetic, cytogenetic, immunological, physiological, toxico-logical and biochemical homeostasis) is manifested in changes of different functional parameters of living beings and thus is a reliable indicator of environment health. For example, the physiological status of plants (silver birch and meadow clover) was assessed by luminescent methods providing data on the condition of the photosynthetic apparatus. Versatile characteristics of the immunological homeostasis offish (bream, roach, redeye), of amphibia (lake frog) and mammals (red-backed mouse and pygmy tree mouse) were obtained by analyzing the morphology of blood cells, of the functional activity of an immune system and other parameters. All these indices gave a correlated answer on alarming conditions in areas of heavy anthropogenic pressure as high as 3-4 points (near chemical factories by the 5-point anomaly scale).

We gave proof of new microbiological methods of assessing the ecological status of water bodies (with chief research scientists Oleg Bukharin, director of the Institute of Cellular and Intracellular Symbiosis of the RAS Ural Branch in Orenburg, a RAS Corresponding Member, and Member of the Russian Academy of Medical Sciences, and Dr. Natalya Nemtseva, laboratory head of the same Institute). Water microorganisms (protozoa, bacteria, algae), making up the initial link of ecosystems, are the most informative diagnostic component of the biota. In such cases the rule is to rely on quantitative indicators, such as the total number of individuals, species diversity and biomass. Yet qualitative indicators are also informative making it possible to spot shifts that precede irreversible changes of the natural environment. That is why the characteristics of microbio-coenoses interacting with hydrobionts and producing bioactive substances significantly expands the possibilities of hydrobiology.

Hydrobionts are examined within the original concept of associative symbiosis including the host, dominants and attendant microflora (i.e. associations of protozoa and bacteria, of protozoa and algae, of algae and bacteria, etc.) that helped to assess their relations and biologically indicative role. We have patented methods suitable for the isolation of pure cultures of algae, of halophilous flagellulae (ciliated organisms) and microorganisms-destructors (microscopic fungi, bacteria, yeast and so forth capable of adapting quickly to pollution specifics), for determining the biological features of hydrobionts. To identify the biostatus of water bodies of the Volga and the Ural basins we have offered, tested and patented methods for assessing the condition of natural biocoenoses, of saprobity (concentration of organic matter in water) and trophicity (bioproductivity of a reservoir depending on this organic matter) level, and of recent fecal pollution. As far as fecal pollution is concerned we have developed a new proximate analysis method. Applied to E.coli, it helped to identify the organic origin of most bacteria added to water.

Over 40 years of research we have conceptualized theoretical, ecological and behavioral methods for fish protection against the deadly hydrotechnical facilities (this work is supervised by Acad. Dmitry Pavlov, director of the RAS Severtsov Institute of Ecological and Evolutionary Problems). It is shown that fish migrations (spawning producers and anadromous young of the fish) are integrated within their natural

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habitats by flow systems. This helped assess the effect of the man-made dams of the Volga's hydraulic power-stations and level of pollution on fish reproduction and thus suggest rescue strategies. We have singled out two most promising groups of protective methods: ecological (water use regulation first of all) and behavioral (making use of sight, ear, lateral line, touch and other receptors). In practice irritants are much in use, for instance, special technical facilities (generation of a protective electric field by means of electrodes, combined with synchronous orienting light or sound signals); they cause a fright reaction in fish making it leave the danger zone.

One more hot problem. I mean invasions* of foreign species into land-locked lakes. Their role has increased greatly in the latter half of the 20th century when the expansion of natural habitats and penetration of living organisms into new communities proceeded against the background of general climatic and

* Here, with reference to new species moving in.--Ed.

anthropogenic changes (for example, the moving in and mass reproduction of the mnemiopsis dog's-tail jellyfish at the end of the 1990s in the Caspian undermined the nutritive base of marketable fish). We can say that biological invasion has escalated into a global problem. In many cases invading species-invaders make contacts with the aboriginal populations of native species and thus largely change the structure of biocoenoses that entail ecological, economic and sometimes even social consequences.

Since 2001 a large complex of research studies into biological invasions has been underway here in Russia for the first time ever (under Yuri Dgebuadze, deputy director of the Severtsov Institute of Ecological and Evolutionary Problems, RAS Corresponding Member). More than 25 percent of hydrobionts of the Volga basin are found to be foreign species (including the dreissena mollusk from the Bug basin, the Far Eastern booted Chinese crab probably getting in from the ballast waters of "river-sea" boats; fire brand-rotan,

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Western tubenose goby and bighead goby fish from the Caspian Sea. The Caspian sprat is so much at home in the Rybinsk artificial lake that there is already a plan of its catches,--up to a hundred tons). We have made a conceptual model of the risk factor of invasions into inland reservoirs, developed information systems on invading species, and prepared databases on the main groups of foreign organisms within the Volga basin, presented in particular on the site of the Severtsov Institute of Ecological and Evolutionary Problems:

Scientists of our institute have assessed the influence of water pollution on the natural reproduction of fish in the Volga's middle and lower reaches. Thus in 1988 a mass disease caused by it, the cumulative poly-toxicosis, resulted in a sharp decrease in the sturgeon population in the Caspian Sea. A team of ecologists under Dr. Igor Yevlanov studied morphological deformities in larvae and nubilous fish species of Volga reservoirs. Now nubile species seldom exhibit such deformities because most of the fry do not survive to adulthood. More frequent are anomalies of the lateral line structure, but these have no significant effect on vitality.

In general we detected 62 kinds of morphological deformities in baby fishes that affect vital organs: there are baby fishes without eyes, those with one or three eyes, without jaws or gill covers, with a three-celled sound, etc. Just to compare: in 1937, when the water pollution effect was minimal, Valentin Kir-pichnikov, a famous geneticist, found only 8 morphological deformities in baby fishes in the Volga-Akh-tubinskaya floodplain; they occurred only in 5 percent cases at most. We think this rate characterizes the natural background of pathologies found in any natural fish population.

Our longtime research shows that it is the reservoirs of the Volga-Akhtubinskaya floodplain that are in the worst condition. Between 1996 and 2002 we took baby fish samples from 40 local spawning grounds; the frequency of morphological deformities varied from 23 to 100 percent, and 5 large spawning grounds were assigned to areas of ecological disaster. The Volgograd, Saratov and Kuibyshev reservoirs are also in alarming conditions: here baby fishes from different spawning grounds have 13 to 91 percent of morphological deformities. Chronic toxicosis is responsible for shrinking annual reproduction and, consequently, of marketable fish stock.

Another problem is that of an "ecological passport system" of small reservoirs and watercourses (with Dr. David Gelashvili, a department head at Lobachevsky Nizhni Novgorod State University, and Dr. Tatyana Zinchenko, laboratory head at our institute), researching in this field. Some pools and rivers are now an object of close studies. For example, the system of Kaban lakes in Kazan has been studied for 200 years already. Yet only at the end of the 20th and beginning of the 21st century information systems for all-round assessment of an ecological condition of city reservoirs were set up in Nizhni Novgorod and Togliatti. These water bodies were issued passports. These are scientific and technical documents comprising all data on the condition of a water body and its recreational resources, thus facilitating control over it. For example, in keeping with the Program of Protection of the Natural Environment of Nizhni Novgorod up to 2010 about 30 water objects were inspected and they received ecological passports for the first time.

And last, yet another area of our research deals with bioindicators' quality (chief scientists--Oleg Bukharin, Vladimir Zakharov, Tatyana Zinchenko and Gennady Rosenberg). All biomonitoring methods suggested by this group of scientists had been tested in a comprehensive research of the Chapayevka (a river in the Samara Region), a worst case of anthropogenic pollution in Russia (the site of chemical weapon enterpris-

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es; their waste products dumped directly into the river). We have demonstrated the efficiency of the suggested methods and found the most workable indicators.

To conclude. Sustainable development is impossible without "healthy" biota. Ecological disasters show it should be taken care of. On August 30, 2003, during the charging of the tanker Viktoriya at the berth of an oil depot in Oktyabrsk (Samara Region) about 3 t of crude oil spilled into the Saratov reservoir damaging spawning grounds. Six years later, on July 13, 2009, an accident on the oil barge Belsky-75 had about 9.5 t of fuel oil spilled into the same reservoir. But these are emergency, most conspicuous situations. Actually the Volga's pollution occurs every day. The negative evolution is not stopped, thus presaging a bad ecological disaster.

Elimination of negative consequences calls for much effort and considerable expenses. Preventive steps, however, do not cost as much. Most of the ecosystems can live on even in conditions of high anthropogenic pressure. But living beings, humans including, may get gravely ill. The bioindication and biomonitoring of many side effects of the adverse action on ecosystems helps see limits beyond irreversible changes can take place. Wider use of the suggested approaches is fully in line with the spirit of Russia's Ecological Doctrine.

A group of scientists headed by Dr. Gennady Rosenberg was awarded a 2010 prize of the Government of the Russian Federation in science and technology for conceptualizing and introducing a set of biomonitoring methods for the sustainable growth of the Volga basin territories.


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