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Ecological Rhine Station

The Ecological Rhine Station of the University of Cologne (officially opened in April 2002) is situated on a former Rhine ship (60 m long, 11 m wide) converted to a basis for rowing of students (cf. CampusSport) on the River Rhine. It is anchored upstream of the city centre and is easily accessible even during high water. Water from the river is continuously pumped through different flumes (1.5 - 6 m long channels) and aquaria on board to carry out experiments with typical running water organisms under defined conditions. Due to the short distance from the immersed pumps (3m) the water reaches the experimental vessels almost unchanged within a few seconds. Two laboratories have watertight floors. Other rooms are used for microscopy, handling of field samples and desk work.
A 17 m long raft on its stern made for landing the rowing boats is used for sampling and carrying out experiments directly in the stream (up to 1.5 m/sec, channels are directly immersed in the surface water). Here the biofilm and the macrobenthos communities on exposed substrates can easily be sampled at all water levels during long-term and short-term experiments.


Present topics of research:

  • Life history and ecology of the macrozoobenthos of the Rhine (esp. insects such as the mayfly Ephoron virgo, the polychaete Hypania invalida, and the mussel Corbicula fluminea)
  • Bioturbation effects in river sediments 
  • Interaction of recently introduced species (neozoa) with indigenous species.
  • The potamal food-web, especially the microbial food web.
  • Structure and control of heterotrophic nanoflagellates in the River Rhine.
  • The importance of the biofilm and the grazing impact of biofilm-dwelling ciliates, rotifers and invertebrates.
  • Comparison of pelagic and benthic food webs.
  • Long-term dynamics of the animal communities in the River Rhine.
  • Drift of fish larvae and macrozoobenthos.

The laboratory is also used by sediment geologists from our university for studies on fluctuating stable isotope-relations in the Rhine.



The Ecological Rhine Station is used for several University courses in aquatic ecology, general ecology, running water ecology, environmental sciences, didactics of biology as well as for excursions on the Rhine fauna. In addition, the station is used for excursions of pupils from different schools of Cologne and its vicinity and other interested people to illustrate the life in a large stream.