The concept of biomonitoring has been found to be an effective way of observing the aggregate effect of environmental fluctuations. Up until today, marine abiotic parameters are mostly monitored using technological measuring devices (i.e. sensors) or ex situ, with the use of samples and their later analysis under laboratory conditions. While this approach gives accurate, easily quantifiable data on the environment, such as the concentration of heavy metals, chlorophyll, presence of pesticides etc., it is not sustainable in long-term monitoring due to its high cost and time expenditure.
Therefore, the use of lifeforms as natural sensors offers the opportunity for early detection of the environmental changes and continuous real-time monitoring. Moreover, unlike the periodical chemical analysis, the use of living organisms gives a more well-rounded information of the water quality as they are affected by the overall environmental factors, not only the ones targeted by a specific experiment. The biohybrid entities to be developed will enable the scientific community to evaluate the ecological/environmental status of the respective lake by improving existing biomonitoring techniques.
There are multiple ways in which animals can be used as bioindicators, for the most part, through observing behavioural, ecological or physiological changes. All of these approaches will be used throughout the Robocoenosis project with the aid of simple sensors, cameras and imagine analysis. Some examples of bio-monitoring using life forms include estimating the eutrophication of the water body by electrochemical quantification of the nitrous oxide released in denitrifying bacteria. Also, heavy-metal pollution is monitored by observing the activity of photosynthetic bacteria and algae as well as using organisms such as mussels and zooplankton organisms that use filtration as a feeding mechanism, for example Daphnia magna. Natural and anthropogenic environmental stressors in water-sediment interface are measured by the reburrowing behaviours of bivalves such as zebra mussels (Dreissena polymorpha) and swan mussel (Anodonta cygnea). These and other organisms will be investigated in context of autonomous experimental design by taking advantage of their physiological, behavioural and ecological adaptations to the environment.