"You just need to find out which living creatures, e.g. insects and crabs, are found at a certain point along the river and in what numbers," Liess explains. The authorities responsible for water management usually have such data available, he adds. Liess and his colleagues have now set up a Web application where this data can be entered and evaluated to show immediately how high the level of pollution in the rivers under investigation actually is. Users download an Excel table from the http://www.systemecology.eu/SPEAR/Start.html website and then enter the numbers of each kind of organism found at each sampling site. Once the table is complete it is fed into the 'SPEAR calculator' and the user enters the region in which the samples were taken. The calculator immediately shows what the water quality in the area in question is like. Regional data is currently available for Germany, France, Finland and Western Siberia, but the system has also been tested in the UK and in Australia. There is no charge for using the service.
Liess believes the authorities can use the calculation results to take suitable steps to reduce pesticide pollution of rivers. "But our tool can do more than just identify problem areas," the Helmholtz scientist stresses. It also indicates where unpolluted stretches of river are compensating for the effect of the pollution. This is extremely important because it can show when conservation methods have been successful. Another advantage of the new tool is that in many cases, complex, expensive chemical analyses will no longer be necessary.