DYNAFISH - Long-term dynamics in fish populations

Web contribution of: 

The bilateral Austrian-Russian research project DYNAFISH systematically investigated written historical sources and archaeological fish remains to reconstruct historical changes of riverine fish communities. The results produced by the interdisciplinary team of fish ecologists, environmental historians and ichthyo-archaeologists have advanced the historical ecology of riverine fish, a still underdeveloped research field compared with the marine environment.

The project output improves ecology-oriented long-term reconstructions of fish communities and populations, which currently focus mostly on the 19th century as a reference situation. The DYNAFISH results go back earlier and show how much riverine fish communities had already at this time been altered by different human interventions and how they were influenced by past climate changes. The research findings will contribute to answering applied fish ecological questions such as the definition of ecological assessment targets based on historical conditions. They can also help identify trajectories of riverine fish communities.

The project team developed a typology of written historical sources taking into account early biological records, fishery, fish trading, fish consumption and fish in culture. Most of these sources have a societal filter which masks ecological information. This hinders taking them directly at face value and we have developed methods to investigate them. Often, different source types had to be combined to produce meaningful outputs. The methods developed were tested for two Austrian case study sites, the Danube with a special focus on the Vienna Basin and the Salzach River system.

For both study sites fishery statistics for longer periods were not available. Among the written sources which proved to be most useful for the Austrian rivers were fishing laws, yearly and monthly historical fish market statistics, historical fish distribution maps and fishery surveys providing at least verbal abundance information. By using historical and future air temperature we were able to demonstrate the influence of past climate changes on fish, to predict the effect of future climate change and to evaluate how much future fluctuations are outside the historical range. The latter was particularly evident for some cold-water species such as brown trout (Salmo trutta fario) and warm-water species such as barbel (Barbus barbus). Methodological advancements were made in the use of archaeological fish remains, in particular for identifying some cyprinid species and reconstructing fish lengths and their changes from Roman times until the early modern period.

The results of DYNAFISH will be made available to the scientific community via publications in peer-reviewed international journals and edited volumes. Five papers are already published, eleven manuscripts are in review or will be submitted in the next weeks. The main project results were presented at an international workshop organized by the Institute of Hydrobiology, BOKU, in September 2013. As an output of this workshop a special issue of Aquatic Sciences is in preparation. Among the 11 contributions in this volume, six are from the DYNAFISH project. Altogether 26 presentations were given at scientific workshops and conferences. A virtual exhibition to be published on the Environment and Society portal of the Rachel Carson Center, Munich, Germany, will be an output for the broader public. 

Contribution to Danube Region: 

DYNAFISH investigated the interaction between human uses of rivers and their fish communities and populations. A case study was done on the effects of climate change on the salzach, representative for Aline catchments. For the case of Vienna and the Viennese Danube effects of changing rivers functions on the rolfe of fish, fisheries and fish supply were studied. 

DYNAFISH contributes thus to understand relations between societies and riverine fish, based on studies of the Upper Danube and selected tributaries. 

September, 2010 to January, 2014
Dr. Alfred Galik, University of Veterinary Medicine Vienna, Institute for Anatomy, Histology and Embryology