The multiproxy approach of the project, presented above, will provide a handy tool for biomonitoring to enhance sustainable use of the local water resources, both for protecting the rich biodiversity in the area and for optimising the local economic activities.
Modern molecular studies reveal presence of very high level of cryptic diversity and local endemism in many freshwater taxa. On the other side, the extinction rate of freshwater species is estimated to be at least 5x higher than of terrestrial species, mostly due to the heavy anthropogenic degradation of the freshwater ecosystems. It leads to the situation, when the rate of extinctions will exceed the rate of identification and description of biodiversity in freshwater habitats. What is even worse, with exception of vertebrates, evolutionary mechanisms and historical factors behind formation of freshwater fauna remain poorly known and understood. Without such knowledge, it is hard to imagine planning reasonable and effective strategy preventing or at least minimalizing the loss of biodiversity. It must also be remembered that planning and implementing such strategy is one of the top priorities of many EU and global agendas for conservation of natural resources. Given that, in light of recent studies, the Mediterranean Region and the Balkans may be the primary area where the European freshwater biota formed, the results of this project will surely fill also a large gap in knowledge of the history and evolution of freshwater fauna on the continental scale.
An important outcome of the project is involving Montenegrin scientists in a number of international initiatives related to biomonitoring of European freshwaters and global biomonitoring. This will certainly activate development of this field in the country, what is of utter importance given the increasing tourist pressure and its importance for the economy of Montenegro. Effective monitoring of the critically limited water resources, aiming to assess the anthropogenic impact and designating key areas/water bodies for maintaining biodiversity will help to balance between the needs for nature conservation and economic development.
Fundamental scientific aspects. The Lake Skadar basin is a biogeographically highly distinct and insufficiently studied region within the Balkan biodiversity and endemism hotspot. For the first time ever we aim at providing a comparative inventory of the model aquatic macroinvertebrate groups of the area at both levels – morphological and molecular. Given the peculiarity of the basin and the result of former studies upon respective taxa, such as crustaceans or gastropods, elsewhere, we may expect a discovery of a new layer of local diversity and endemism. This, in conjunction with phylogenetic studies, will help to understand the mechanisms behind spatial diversity patterns in freshwater ecosystems in Mediterranean karst areas.
Applied ecological aspects. Modern view on nature conservation implies focus on natural evolutionary pattern and, the so called, evolutionary significant units (aka MOTUs) instead the traditionally recognised morphospecies. Also, recently the attention of ecologists and regulatory agencies has been attracted by the possibility of the molecular characterization of the communities by using genetic methods which has advantages over a standard taxonomy-based monitoring system which is often constrained by the limitation of taxonomic expertise, which often result in a superficial and erroneous taxa identification (Pešić et al. 2018). Applying DNA barcodes has the potential to improve the quality and effectiveness of ecological assessment by detecting cryptic species (Pešić et al. 2018) and is in focus of several international initiatives, such as iBOL (International Barcode of Life) and the EU Cost Action “DNAqua-Net”. Integrating the data gathered by the Polish and Montenegrin teams into the data analysis gives us the chance to develop a new assessment method based, as a first step, on selected groups of freshwater organisms, which can be applied in the regular monitoring of ecological quality of Lake Skadar and other water bodies within its basin.
Freshwater fauna in the focus of society and economical benefits. Our results will provide fundamental knowledge, which can be used for the development of protection strategies and as a basis for further studies, e.g. focusing on the consequences of climate change and anthropogenic modifications, not only in the Lake Skadar basin but in the whole the region of West Balkan as well. Therefore our results will contribute to a better protection of the freshwater ecosystems in Montenegro and, in consequence, their services to local inhabitants. Finally, the results of the project will provide a unique and novel view on the conservation needs and proper conservation strategy for the area, disturbed by various anthropogenic activities (elaborated in detail on the Pešić et al. 2018).