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Concept: Rhine


Microplastics result from fragmentation of plastic debris or are released to the environment as pre-production pellets or components of consumer and industrial products. In the oceans, they contribute to the ‘great garbage patches’. They are ingested by many organisms, from protozoa to baleen whales, and pose a threat to the aquatic fauna. Although as much as 80% of marine debris originates from land, little attention was given to the role of rivers as debris pathways to the sea. Worldwide, not a single great river has yet been studied for the surface microplastics load over its length. We report the abundance and composition of microplastics at the surface of the Rhine, one of the largest European rivers. Measurements were made at 11 locations over a stretch of 820 km. Microplastics were found in all samples, with 892,777 particles km (-2) on average. In the Rhine-Ruhr metropolitan area, a peak concentration of 3.9 million particles km (-2) was measured. Microplastics concentrations were diverse along and across the river, reflecting various sources and sinks such as waste water treatment plants, tributaries and weirs. Measures should be implemented to avoid and reduce the pollution with anthropogenic litter in aquatic ecosystems.

Concepts: Water, Water pollution, River, Sewage treatment, Sea, Ocean, Aquatic ecology, Rhine


SUMMARY Species introduced into new areas often show a reduction in parasite and genetic diversity associated to the limited number of founding individuals. In this study, we compared microsatellite and parasite diversity in both native (lower Danube) and introduced populations of 4 Ponto-Caspian gobies, including those (1) introduced from within the same river system (middle Danube; Neogobius kessleri and N. melanostomus), and (2) introduced from a different river system (River Vistula; N. fluviatilis and N. gymnotrachelus). Microsatellite data confirmed the lower Danube as a source population for gobies introduced into the middle Danube. Both native and introduced (same river system) populations of N. kessleri and N. melanostomus had comparable parasite species richness and microsatellite diversity, possibly due to multiple and/or continual migration/introduction of new individuals and the acquisition of local parasites. Reduced parasite species richness and microsatellite diversity were observed in introduced (different river system) populations in the Vistula. A low number of colonists found for N. fluviatilis and N. gymnotrachelus in the Vistula potentially resulted in reduced introduction of parasite species. Insufficient adaptation of the introduced host to local parasite fauna, together with introduction into an historically different drainage system, may also have contributed to the reduced parasite fauna.

Concepts: Biodiversity, Symbiosis, River, Rhine, Romania, Danube, Danube Delta


End-of-life decisions remain controversial. Switzerland, with three main languages shared with surrounding countries and legal suicide assistance, allows exploration of the effects of cultural differences on end-of-life practices within the same legal framework.

Concepts: Death, Anthropology, Switzerland, Cultural studies, German language, Nation, Rhine


Numerous studies on microplastics (MPs; Ø < 5 mm) in the aquatic environment have been published, but knowledge about the occurrence and ecological risks of MPs is limited. This is in part because current data on the distribution of MPs are comparable only to a limited extent, due to the many different methods of investigation. In addition, sample preparation is often difficult such that standard procedures are lacking. The aim of this work was to simplify the preparation of different kinds of MP samples. Our method makes use of the electrostatic behavior of plastic particles to facilitate their separation from sample matter, with up to 99% of the original sample mass removed without any loss of MPs. To determine the efficacy of this approach, four different materials (quartz sand, freshwater suspended particulate matter, freshwater sediment, and beach sand) were spiked with MPs (size: 0.063-5 mm from the seven most common types of plastics, one bioplastic type, polyethylene fibers, and tire wear. A modified electrostatic metal/plastic separator was used to reduce the sample mass and concentrate the plastics based on their physical separation. The recovery achieved with this method was as high as nearly 100% for each type of material. The method was then tested on plastic particles of different shapes and types isolated from the Rhine River. These were successfully electroseparated from the four materials, which demonstrated the utility of this method. Its advantages include the simplified handling and preparation of different field samples as well as a much shorter processing time, because after the last separation step there is hardly any biological material remaining in the sample fraction.

Concepts: River, Plastic, Germany, Particulate, Visibility, Air pollution, Sand, Rhine


Biodiversity patterns are inherently complex and difficult to comprehensively assess. Yet, deciphering shifts in species composition through time and space are crucial for efficient and successful management of ecosystem services, as well as for predicting change. To better understand species diversity patterns, Germany participated in the Global Malaise Trap Program, a world-wide collection program for arthropods using this sampling method followed by their DNA barcode analysis. Traps were deployed at two localities: “Nationalpark Bayerischer Wald” in Bavaria, the largest terrestrial Natura 2000 area in Germany, and the nature conservation area Landskrone, an EU habitats directive site in the Rhine Valley. Arthropods were collected from May to September to track shifts in the taxonomic composition and temporal succession at these locations.

Concepts: Biodiversity, Species, Ecology, Ecosystem, Germany, Netherlands, Conservation, Rhine


The number of dementia patients requesting euthanasia in the Netherlands has increased over the past five years. The issue is highly controversial. In this contribution we discuss some of the main arguments: the nature of suffering, the voluntariness of the request and the role of the physician. We argue that society has a duty to care for patients who suffer from dementia and to make their lives as good and comfortable as possible. We also argue that it can be morally acceptable for those who do not want to continue their life with dementia to choose to die. The choice can be based on good reasons.

Concepts: Medicine, Morality, Suffering, Suicide, Society, Core issues in ethics, Argumentation theory, Rhine


The Rhine catchment in Switzerland has been transformed by a chain of hydroelectric power stations. We addressed the impact of fragmentation on the genetic structure of fish populations by focusing on the European chub (Squalius cephalus). This fish species is not stocked and copes well with altered habitats, enabling an assessment of the effects of fragmentation per se. Using microsatellites, we genotyped 2133 chub from 47 sites within the catchment fragmented by 37 hydroelectric power stations, two weirs and the Rhine Falls. The shallow genetic population structure reflected drainage topology and was affected significantly by barriers to migration. The effect of power stations equipped with fishpasses on genetic differentiation was detectable, albeit weaker than that of man-made barriers without fishpasses. The Rhine Falls as the only long-standing natural obstacle (formed 14 000 to 17 000 years ago) also had a strong effect. Man-made barriers also exacerbated the upstream decrease in allelic diversity in the catchment, particularly when lacking fishpasses. Thus, existing fishpasses do have the desired effect of mitigating fragmentation, but barriers still reduce population connectivity in a fish that traverses fishpasses better than many other species. Less mobile species are likely to be affected more severely.

Concepts: Genetics, Evolution, Biology, Brazil, Russia, Hydroelectricity, Rhine, Squalius


Decreasing body size has been proposed as a universal response to increasing temperatures. The physiology behind the response is well established for ectotherms inhabiting aquatic environments: as higher temperatures decrease the aerobic capacity, individuals with smaller body sizes have a reduced risk of oxygen deprivation. However, empirical evidence of this response at the scale of communities and ecosystems is lacking for marine fish species. Here we show that over a 40-year period six of eight commercial fish species in the North Sea examined underwent concomitant reductions in asymptotic body size with the synchronous component of the total variability coinciding with a 1-2°C increase in water temperature. Smaller body sizes decreased the yield-per-recruit of these stocks by an average of 23%. Although it is not possible to ascribe these phenotypic changes unequivocally to temperature, four aspects support this interpretation: (i) the synchronous trend was detected across species varying in their life history and life style, (ii) the decrease coincided with the period of increasing temperature, (iii) the direction of the phenotypic change is consistent with physiological knowledge and (iv) no cross-species synchrony was detected in other species-specific factors potentially impacting growth. Our findings support a recent model-derived prediction that fish size will shrink in response to climate-induced changes in temperature and oxygen. The smaller body sizes being projected for the future are already detectable in the North Sea. This article is protected by copyright. All rights reserved.

Concepts: Baltic Sea, Gas, All rights reserved, Norway, Copyright, North Sea, Rhine, North Sea oil


Phytoplankton primary production is at the base of the marine food web; changes in primary production have direct or indirect effects on higher trophic levels, from zooplankton organisms to marine mammals and seabirds. Here we present a new time-series on gross primary production in the North Sea, from 1988 to 2013, estimated using in situ measurements of chlorophyll and underwater light. This shows that recent decades have seen a significant decline in primary production in the North Sea. Moreover, primary production differs in magnitude between six hydrodynamic regions within the North Sea. Sea surface warming and reduced riverine nutrient inputs are found to be likely contributors to the declining levels of primary production. In turn, significant correlations are found between observed changes in primary production and the dynamics of higher trophic levels including (small) copepods and a standardised index of fish recruitment, averaged over 7 stocks of high commercial significance in the North Sea. Given positive (bottom-up) associations between primary production, zooplankton abundance and fish stock recruitment, this study provides strong evidence that if the decline in primary production continues, knock-on effects upon the productivity of fisheries are to be expected unless these fisheries are managed effectively and cautiously. This article is protected by copyright. All rights reserved.

Concepts: Photosynthesis, Ecology, Baltic Sea, Norway, Phytoplankton, Food chain, Plankton, Rhine


Discovered on the southern margin of the North Sea Basin, “Phoca” vitulinoides represents one of the best-known extinct species of Phocidae. However, little attention has been given to the species ever since its original 19th century description. Newly discovered material, including the most complete specimen of fossil Phocidae from the North Sea Basin, prompted the redescription of the species. Also, the type material of “Phoca” vitulinoides is lost.

Concepts: Evolution, Biology, Atlantic Ocean, Baltic Sea, Scotland, Cretaceous, North Sea, Rhine