Hydromorphological quality as a key element of the ecological status of Polish Carpathian rivers

Bartłomiej WYŻGA, Joanna ZAWIEJSKA


After a few decades of efforts to detect, quantify and counteract the effects of water pollution on river biota, recent years have brought an increasing understanding of the significance of hydromorphological quality of rivers for their ecological status, and research on Polish Carpathian rivers has contributed to the progress in this field. Our team developed a method of hydromorphological assessment of rivers, which is based on the European Standard EN-14614 and compromises between the needs for practical application and the environmental significance of results. Application of the method in rivers with different channel patterns confirmed its usefulness and showed a significant impact of channelization and channel incision on the hydromorphological quality of Carpathian rivers. Both disturbances simplified flow pattern and homogenised physical habitat conditions in rivers, and the changes are clearly reflected in the reduced abundance and diversity of fish fauna as well as the reduced taxonomic diversity of benthic invertebrate communities. Significant relationships between these biotic characteristics of Polish Carpathian rivers on one hand and the variation of physical habitat conditions and hydromorphological quality of the rivers on the other indicate that recovery of the degraded communities requires such restoration measures that will increase morphological complexity of the watercourses. Environmental changes that took place in Carpathian catchments during the twentieth century have changed water and sediment fluxes in the rivers and thus make it impossible to use the historical state of the watercourses as reference for their restoration. Therefore, reference conditions should be defined as those which exist or would exist under present environmental conditions in the catchment but with the lacking human influence on the channel, riparian zone and floodplain of the river which is to be restored. An erodible corridor seems to be a restoration measure enabling the most effective adjustment of a degraded river to its contemporary regime as well as re-establishment of geomorphic dynamic equilibrium conditions and improvement of hydromorphological conditions for river biota


mountain river, hydromorphological quality, reference conditions, ecological status

Full Text:



Bojarski A., Jeleński J., Jelonek M., Litewka T., Wyżga B., Zalewski J. 2005. Zasady dobrej praktyki w utrzymaniu rzek i potoków górskich (Good-Practice Manual on Sustainable Maintenance of Mountain Streams and Rivers in Southern Poland). Ministerstwo Środowiska, Warszawa (in Polish, with English summary).

CEN 2004. Water Quality – Guidance Standard for Assessing the Hydromorphological Features of Rivers. EN-14614. CEN, Brussels.

CEN 2010. Water Quality – Guidance Standard on Determining the Degree of Modification of River Hydromorphology. EN-15843. CEN, Brussels.

Elosegi A., Díez J., Mutz M. 2010. Effects of hydromorphological integrity on biodiversity and functioning of river ecosystems. Hydrobiologia, 657: 199-215.

European Commission. 2000. Directive 2000/60 EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 23 October 2000 Establishing a Framework for Community Action in the Field of Water Policy. Official Journal of the European Communities, L 327(43): 1-72.

Nieznański P., Wyżga B., Obrdlik P. 2008. Oder border meanders: A concept of the erodible river corridor and its implementation. In: Gumiero B., Rinaldi M., Fokkens B. (Eds), 4th ECRR International Conference on River Restoration, ECRR, Venice, pp. 479-486.

Piégay H., Darby S., Mosselman E., Surian N. 2005. A review of techniques available for delimiting the erodible river corridor: a sustainable approach to managing bank erosion. River Research and Applications, 21: 773-789.

Rinaldi M., Wyżga B., Dufour S., Bertoldi W., Gurnell A. 2013. River processes and implications for fluvial ecogeomorphology: An European perspective. In: Shroder J., Butler D., Hupp C.R. (Eds), Treatise on Geomorphology. Volume 12. Ecogeomorphology, Academic Press, San Diego, pp. 37-52.

Rinaldi M., Wyżga B., Surian N. 2005. Sediment mining in alluvial channels: physical effects and management perspectives. River Research and Applications, 21: 805-828.

Vaughan I.P., Diamond M., Gurnell A.M., Hall K.A., Jenkins A., Milner N.J., Naylor L.A., Sear D.A., Woodward G., Ormerod S.J. 2009. Integrating ecology with hydromorphology: a priority for river science and management. Aquatic Conservation: Marine and Freshwater Ecosystems, 19: 113-125.

Wyżga B. 2008. A review on channel incision in the Polish Carpathian rivers during the 20th century. In: Habersack H., Piégay H., Rinaldi M. (Eds), Gravel-bed Rivers VI: From Process Understanding to River Restoration. Elsevier, Amsterdam, pp. 525-555.

Wyżga B., Amirowicz A., Radecki-Pawlik A., Zawiejska J. 2009. Hydromorphological conditions, potential fish habitats and the fish community in a mountain river subjected to variable human impacts, the Czarny Dunajec, Polish Carpathians. River Research and Applications, 30: 517-536.

Wyżga B., Zawiejska J., Radecki-Pawlik A., Amirowicz A. 2010. A method for the assessment of hydromorphological river quality and its application to the Czarny Dunajec, Polish Carpathians. In: Radecki-Pawlik A., Hernik J. (Eds), Cultural Landscapes of River Valleys, Agricultural University in Kraków, Kraków, pp. 145-164.

Wyżga B., Oglęcki P., Radecki-Pawlik A., Zawiejska J. 2011. Diversity of macroinvertebrate communities as a reflection of habitat heterogeneity in a mountain river subjected to variable human impacts. In: Simon A., Bennett S.J., Castro J.M., Thorne C. (Eds), Stream Restoration in Dynamic Systems: Scientific Approaches, Analyses and Tools. American Geophysical Union, Washington, pp. 189-207.

Wyżga B., Hajdukiewicz H., Zawiejska J., Amirowicz A., Oglęcki P., Radecki-Pawlik A. 2012a. Practical and environmentally significant method of hydromorphological assessment of rivers. International Conference ‘Integrative sciences for sustainable development of rivers’, July 2012, Lyon, France, 161: 1-3.

Wyżga B., Oglęcki P., Radecki-Pawlik A., Skalski T., Zawiejska J. 2012b. Hydromorphological complexity as a driver of the diversity of benthic invertebrate communities in the Czarny Dunajec River, Polish Carpathians. Hydrobiologia, 696: 29-46.

Wyżga B., Zawiejska J., Radecki-Pawlik A., Hajdukiewicz H. 2012c. Environmental change, hydromorphological reference conditions and the restoration of Polish Carpathian rivers. Earth Surface Processes and Landforms, 37: 1213-1226.

Wyżga B., Oglęcki P., Hajdukiewicz H., Zawiejska J., Radecki-Pawlik A., Skalski T., Mikuś P. (in press) Interpretation of the invertebrate-based BMWP-PL index in a gravel-bed river: insight from the Polish Carpathians. Hydrobiologia, DOI 10.1007/s10750-012-1280-0

Zawiejska J., Wyżga B. 2010. Twentieth-century channel change on the Dunajec River, southern Poland: patterns, causes and controls. Geomorphology, 117: 234-246.

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.4316/GEOREVIEW.2012.21.1.55