History of Department of Hydrobiology

The roots of the present Department of Hydrobiology in the Institute of Zoology run back to two institutions founded in 1952: the Department of Hydrobiology headed by professor Marian Gieysztor, and the Department of Animal Ecology headed by professor Kazimierz Tarwid. The latter became the Department of Evolutionism and Animal Ecology headed by professor Kazimierz Petrusewicz, who became the head of the Department of Hydrobiology after prof. Gieysztor’s death in 1961. In 1964 the hydrobiological part of the Department of Evolutionism and Animal Ecology was incorporated into the Department of Hydrobiology. The successive heads were prof. Ewa Pieczyńska since 1969, prof. Z. Maciej Gliwicz since 1984, an since 2010 prof. Joanna Pijanowska has been the head. Initially grounded at Nowy Świat 67, from 1995 at Banacha 2, and since 2013 the Department has been located in the Centre of New Technologies Ochota at Żwirki i Wigury 101.

Since its beginnings, the research interests of the Department of Hydrobiology lay in the broad area of ecology, which increasingly included behavioural and evolutionary biology. Initially, the research focused on species composition and plankton, benthos, macrophyte, periphyton and fish community structure. With the launching of the International Biological Programme (IBP) in the 70s, the focus of the research shifted to the processes of production and decomposition in lake littoral, pelagial, profundal and the aquatic-terrestrial ecotone. Participation in the IBP opened opportunities for international communication with limnology and ecology centres in Europe and America, which lead to further gradual change in research focus and methodology. Description of phenomena gave way to attempts of explaining the mechanisms underlying ecological processes: of energy transfers to higher trophic levels, ecological succession, formation of plant and animal communities, and to analysis of factors influencing changes in abundance and age structure of populations.

In the late 70s, the research on productivity and ecological efficiency gradually developed into the study of eutrophication processes and the search for biological methods to prevent excessive lake eutrophication, which leads to degradation of the quality of their water. The experience gained through the research on trophic relationships in lake communities, particularly on plant-herbivore and prey-predator interactions, was later useful in the search for methods of water conservation. These included modifications of fisheries management practices based on biomanipulation. The changes in the occurrence of macrophytes in eutrophicating lakes and their role in the control of water quality was analysed, and numerous studies have later focused on the functioning of hydrophyte wastewater treatment plants.

In the 90s, population and community ecology was increasingly complemented by research on life histories and behaviour, and especially on the reactions of animals (planktonic crustaceans of the pelagial, littoral invertebrates, and fish) to the threat of predators. These studies have yielded many important discoveries through the use of new knowledge of chemical communication. This included fish kairomones, metabolites of planktivorous fish which escape into the environment and are identified by planktonic prey as information about the presence of predators, and alarm substance, released into the water by attacked prey and identified by conspecifics as information about the immediate threat from predators.

Studies on the mechanisms of defense against predators through changes in morphology, behaviour and life history gained a new momentum in the last decade, when it was found that the level of threat is revealed as a stress response to danger in the form of elevated levels of heat shock proteins (HSP) in the body. The reactions to other biotic stress, such as low quality of food, and abiotic stress, such as excessive salinity and increased water temperature, have since then been studied.

Research interests of the Department have always been broad. In addition to the intensive research on ecology of stress, studies on freshwater communities and their formation continue. These include fishless habitats where planktonic and benthic invertebrates are free from dangers from fish - the most efficient predators of aquatic environments. The ongoing studies also include work on foraging of invertebrates and fish, biological diversity and the role of invasive species, and biological methods of water conservation.

Special to the Department is its methodological diversity resulting from the combination of sophisticated laboratory methods with intensive fieldwork. The latter was formerly based in the Hydrobiological Station of Polish Academy of Sciences in Mikołajki, and is currently based in the Department’s own well-equipped station in Pilchy (www.hydro.biol.uw.edu.pl / pilchy). Field studies are conducted mainly in the Mazurian Great Lakes District and, to a lesser extent, on the lakes of Suwalki Region, Tatra Mountains, and in Warsaw (the Vistula river and city ponds). Field work has also included experiments carried out in mesocosms, enclosures or fenced parts of the lake, and the entire lakes, from which fish were either removed or their behaviour modified by means of chemical signals carrying information about the increased risk from fish-eating predators.

At various times, the researchers at the Department conducted their studies in other countries in Europe, Africa, Asia, and North and South America. At the beginning of its existence, the Department of Hydrobiology collaborated closely with the former Institute of Ecology of the National Academy of Sciences and the Inland Fisheries Institute. Later cooperation involved many other national and international institutions. In the years 1985-2005 cooperation with the Max Planck Institute of Limnology in Plön (Germany) was particularly close, but the research resulting in joint publications has been carried out in collaboration with more than twenty other academic institutions.

The staff participated in a number of inter-institutional research programs, including the International Biological Program (IBP), Man and the Biosphere Programme (MAB), a European Commission project, and in various centrally funded national research programs. The Department carried out a number of research projects funded by the NSC, Ministry of Science and Higher Education and the Foundation for Polish Science.

Since its inception, the Department of Hydrobiology has run student courses in the broad areas of hydrobiology, ecology and zoology. These activities include lectures, seminars, laboratory exercises and field coursework, and undergraduate and postgraduate workshops. Department also educates graduate students - individually and as part of doctoral studies at the Faculty of Biology. By 2010, 25 of doctoral and 228 master theses have been prepared in the Department.​​

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