Ecological relevance of biomarkers in monitoring studies of macro-invertebrates and fish in Mediterranean rivers

Nicole Colin, Cinta Porte, Denise Fernandes, Carlos Barata, Francesc Padrós, Maite Carrassón, Mario Monroy, Oriol Cano-Rocabayera, Adolfo de Sostoa, Benjamín Piña, Alberto Maceda-Veiga

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

113 Citations (Scopus)


© 2015 Elsevier B.V. Mediterranean rivers are probably one of the most singular and endangered ecosystems worldwide due to the presence of many endemic species and a long history of anthropogenic impacts. Besides a conservation value per se, biodiversity is related to the services that ecosystems provide to society and the ability of these to cope with stressors, including climate change. Using macro-invertebrates and fish as sentinel organisms, this overview presents a synthesis of the state of the art in the application of biomarkers (stress and enzymatic responses, endocrine disruptors, trophic tracers, energy and bile metabolites, genotoxic indicators, histopathological and behavioural alterations, and genetic and cutting edge omic markers) to determine the causes and effects of anthropogenic stressors on the biodiversity of European Mediterranean rivers. We also discuss how a careful selection of sentinel species according to their ecological traits and the food-web structure of Mediterranean rivers could increase the ecological relevance of biomarker responses. Further, we provide suggestions to better harmonise ecological realism with experimental design in biomarker studies, including statistical analyses, which may also deliver a more comprehensible message to managers and policy makers. By keeping on the safe side the health status of populations of multiple-species in a community, we advocate to increase the resilience of fluvial ecosystems to face present and forecasted stressors. In conclusion, this review provides evidence that multi-biomarker approaches detect early signs of impairment in populations, and supports their incorporation in the standardised procedures of the Water Frame Work Directive to better appraise the status of European water bodies.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)307-323
JournalScience of the Total Environment
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2016


  • Bioassessment
  • Bioindicators
  • Ecosystem health
  • Intermittent rivers
  • Keystone species
  • Species traits


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