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The AQEM Project aims to develop a Europe-wide system for monitoring the ecological quality of rivers using macroinvertebrates, to satisfy the requirements of the EU Water Framework Directive. Three main types of anthropogenic perturbation are being investigated: morphological degradation, water (organic) pollution and acidification (the last is not under investigation in Italy). The selection of reference and impaired study sites is discussed. Particular attention is paid to the problems encountered when defining reference conditions. The initial stages of the project highlighted the lack of a Europe-wide definition of river types. The future development of such a typology from the AQEM database is discussed. The standard AQEM data gathering methods are presented, from background information about sites to the microhabitat-based macroinvertebrate sampling method. The extended fieldwork methods used in Italy are described. These included the separate analysis of the invertebrate assemblages from each replicate, the recording of additional microhabitat variables for each replicate and the completion of large-scale survey techniques for each site (including RHS). The extended method was designed to enhance the important ecological information available from the dataset, particularly relevant in Italy where significant gaps exist in the taxonomic and ecological knowledge of many macroinvertebrate taxa. Preliminary and expected findings are presented, including examples of the range and habitat selection of two species of Ephemeroptera endemic to Italy, as well as data relating to the number of taxa found at a site with increasing numbers of microhabitat replicates taken. The importance of the AQEM Project not only for biomonitoring, but also for ecology, taxonomy and conservation, in Italy and for the south of Europe in general, is emphasised.
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