Biological Early Warning Systems (BEWS)

Our research in application of neuro-behavioural phenotyping in aquatic ecotoxicology directly translates into development of innovative technologies for real-time, online monitoring of water quality. 

BEWS are systems that can continuously analyze behavioural and/or physiological parameters of suitable aquatic bioindicator species to monitor water quality.


Monitoring of freshwater quality and its potential sudden contamination is integral to human health, sustainable economic development and prediction of pollutant impact on aquatic ecosystems. Although there have been significant advances in technologies for automated sampling and continuous analysis of water physicochemical parameters, the current capabilities for real-time warning against rapidly developing unknown mixtures of chemical hazards are still limited.

Conventional chemical analysis systems are not suitable for assessing unknown mixtures of chemicals as well as additive and/or synergetic effects on biological systems.

In this regard real-time biological early warning systems (BEWS), that can continuously monitor behavioural and/or physiological parameters of suitable aquatic bioindicator species, have been historically proposed to fill the gap and supplement conventional water quality test strategies.

Alterations in sub-lethal neuro-behavioural traits have been proven as very sensitive and physiologically relevant endpoints that can provide highly integrative water quality sensing capabilities. Although BEWS are commonly regarded as non-specific and lacking both quantitative and qualitative detection capabilities, their advantages, if properly designed and implemented, lie in continuous sensing and early-warning information about sudden alteration in water quality parameters.

A schematic depicting biological early-warning system based on monitoring water filtration behaviors of freshwater bivalve mollusks.

Mussels can be used as sensitive bioindications of water quality. As filter-feeders, freshwater mussels are sensitive bioindicators of a wide range of waterborne toxicants. Their toxicant avoidance behaviours include rapid decrease and even cessation of water filtration. The latter is associated with closing of the shells.

Mussels’ shells are in essence a biomechanical hinge and their movement can be electronically quantified using non-contact proximity sensors in real-time when mussels are immobilized in flow through water tanks.

Miniaturised perfusion BEWS

Microfluidics is defined as the technology of manipulating small volumes of fluids within miniaturized channels. In miniaturized systems fluid flow is laminar as described by the dimensionless parameter referred to as Reynolds number (Re). Importantly the biomicrofluidic Lab-on-a-Chip (LOC) technologies are often integrated with miniaturized optoelectronic sensors, actuators and embedded analytical interfaces.

Our laboratory has developed a number of microperfusion prototypes with applications in aquatic ecotoxicology and water quality sensing based on analysis of animal behavior. In this regard we have pioneered an automated millifluidic technology for the monitoring of water quality based on locomotory traits of Daphnia magna as well as marine system analysing locomotory traits of larval stages of brine shrimp (Artemia franciscana).

We have also demonstrated novel technologies to study marine water quality based on chemosensory avoidance behaviours of the marine amphipods A. compressa . The combination of high-definition video imaging, LOC platform and animal tracking software was successfully validated with model toxicants and similar systems could be prospectively developed into innovative BEWS.

A prototype of miniaturized micro-perfusion technology for the monitoring of water quality based on alterations in locomotory activity of Daphnia magna.

The system utilizes a microfluidic perfusion array with multiple independent perfusion chambers as well as an ultra-high definition digital video camera imaging an entire chip-array. The single micro-chamber can cage up to five specimens of Daphnia sp.

Computer-based tracking of Daphnia sp. locomotory behaviour was performed using Ethovision XT software.


Bownik A and Wlodkowic D 2021 Applications of advanced neuro-behavioural analysis strategies in aquatic ecotoxicology, Science of The Total Environment, 772, 145577 DOI

Bai Y, Henry J, Campana O, Wlodkowic D 2021 Emerging prospects of integrated bioanalytical systems in neuro-behavioral toxicology, Science of The Total Environment, 756, 143922 DOI

Henry J and Wlodkowic D 2020 High-throughput animal tracking in chemobehavioral phenotyping: Current limitations and future perspectives, Behavioural Processes, 180, 104226 DOI

Bai Y, Henry J and Wlodkowic D 2020 Chemosensory avoidance behaviors of marine amphipods Allorchestes compressa revealed using a millifluidic perfusion technology, Biomicrofluidics, 14, 014110DOI

Cartlidge R and Wlodkowic D 2018 Caging of planktonic rotifers in microfluidic environment for sub-lethal aquatic toxicity tests, Biomicrofluidics, 12, 044111DOI

Campana O and Wlodkowic D 2018 The undiscovered country: Ecotoxicology meets microfluidics, Sensors and Actuators B: Chemical, 257, 692-704DOI

Campana O and Wlodkowic D 2018 Ecotoxicology Goes on a Chip: Embracing Miniaturized Bioanalysis in Aquatic Risk Assessment, Environmental Science and Technology, 52(3), 932-946DOI

Huang Y, Campana O and Wlodkowic D 2017 A Millifluidic System for Analysis of Daphnia magna Locomotory Responses to Water-born Toxicants, Scientific Reports, 7, 17603DOI

Cartlidge R, Nugegoda D and Wlodkowic D 2017 Millifluidic Lab-on-a-Chip technology for automated toxicity tests using the marine amphipod Allorchestes compressa, Sensors and Actuators B: Chemical, 239, 660-670DOI

Huang Y, Persoone G, Nugegoda D and Wlodkowic D 2016 Enabling sub-lethal behavioral ecotoxicity biotests using microfluidic Lab-on-a-Chip technology, Sensors and Actuators B: Chemical, 226, 289-298DOI