With the support of a prestigious Sinergia Grant in the amount of 1.8 million Swiss francs from the Swiss National Science Foundation, Pomati and his collaborators are planning to further study toxic algae species. More specifically, they intend to manually collect genetic data which gives information about whether a species contains the “toxin gene” or not. Together with data captured at high frequency with the automated system on grazers and the environment, they plan to study the dynamics of the toxic blue-green algae populations.
Help from the population is welcome
Additionally, the researchers are testing an already existing mobile phone application together with an easy-to-handle “camera system” (PlanktoScope), both of which could be used by citizen scientists. With such means, everybody that has an interest can contribute to early warnings of algae blooms. By taking these steps, Pomati and colleagues also hope to receive Swiss-wide real-time data on phytoplankton species and amounts and decrease the time gaps in data collection.
Standardisation is essential
Good monitoring tools with high frequency of data collection are not the only challenge, however, when it comes to safeguarding people from hazardous cyanobacteria blooms. Modeling and forecasting such events are just as important. One crucial aspect of a good forecasting model is a standardised definition of a bloom event. Yet, this was missing in the past. “Although there are many definitions of blooms, each of them is different and tailored to a specific application”, explain Isles and Pomati in their new article, published in the renowned scientific journal Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment. In it, they propose a standardised definition for a bloom event that, in contrast to other definitions, is not based on a threshold value for the biomass concentration, but rather refers to the growth and loss processes of phytoplankton.
Besides the improvements to data collection and standardisation of the definition of an algae bloom, Pomati and his team are also currently working with several cantonal authorities to devise a method on how best to respond to algae blooms. In the process, they are testing and standardising several methods and early warning systems. Eventually, this will all lead to better protection of people and livestock and decreases in economic harm caused by algae blooms.