Woodiana.today is an experimental online forecast service developed to save the Danube's future through speculative fabulation. It is run by Woodiana, a freshwater mussel of the species Sinanodonta woodiana, that was introduced from China, and today she is facilitated by her international team of artists and scientists.
Woodiana uses the latest AI technology to predict the concentration of pollutants in the surface water which then influence her motion, leaving us with some dazzling patterns in the sand like secret symbols. Based on these temporal motion patterns, Woodiana's speculative forecast bureau - the Woodiana.today, investigates a portfolio of scenarios as reactions to anticipated environmental emergencies that the river Danube might expect in the future.
Woodiana.today reports on the current and upcoming status of the Anthropocene and sketches a variety of speculative futures of the Danubian region. Woodiana.today has been heavily informed by science and scientific water data but interprets it through a dialogue with other agents: economics, politics, art, theory, ai technology, history, speculative fiction, and the role that Danube had played for different cultures as a totemic, spiritual, military and ecological touchstone. But to really understand how Woodiana.today delivers the forecasts, we need to enter the world of Woodiana, we need to dive into the river, search for her trails, and to consult freshwater biologists, ecologists and data scientists.
WHO IS WOODIANA?
The Chinese Swan Mussel
Woodiana is a freshwater clam - a swan mussel, from the species Sinanodonta woodiana (I. Lea, 1834), family Unionidae, that arrived in Europe in 1963 from the River Yangtze in China as a result of human activity. She came to the Danube as a glochidium - a stowaway on the Asian silver carp (Hypophthalmichthys molitrix), which humans transported to Europe with the aim to fight the effects of eutrophication. As a glochidium, our Woodiana was a microscopic larvae parasite that nobody saw, a deck passenger clinging with her hook to the gills of the host fish. After two weeks she detached from the silver carp, fell to the bottom of the Danube and started to conduct a free life as a mussel.
Becoming an Oracle
Being shipped from long distances between continents, without being a migratory species by herself, and then declared as one of the most invasive aquatic macroinvertebrates found in the river Danube, Woodiana is a firsthand witness of the Anthropocene. From early on, Woodiana was surveying humanity’s impact on the Danube and its mussel community which were significantly disappearing even before she was introduced to the new environment. The Danube clams were losing their populations because of pollution from agriculture, habitat loss due to hydropower plants and water abstraction, but also overfishing for producing Mother of Pearl buttons. But, today, Woodiana is also a potential threat. Being considered a generalist - a species with exquisite survival skills - Woodiana is in direct competition with other danubian mussel species, excessively exploiting fish as her hosts.
As a result of this, she is often represented, both by the popular media and within academic discourse as a great alien-villain dominating over the native species. For sure, Woodiana is faster in reproduction, bigger in size and resilient to a wide range of environmental conditions than the other members of the Unionidae family. But, perhaps, this is what it takes for life in the Danube to continue which is rapidly changing by man-made climate change.
This natural advantage of Woodiana was recognised by the ‘Department for species mediation’ which is part of the 'Danube Transformation Agency for Agency' (DTAFA), who offered assisting services to her and now supports Woodiana with the necessary digital infrastructure. By means of digital connection, Woodiana has at her command the water quality data collected by The TransNational Monitoring Network. By combining those data sets from 2001-2021 with the means of artificial intelligence she is predicting the concentration of pollutants in the Danube, with pollution loads calculated for: Ammonium ion NH4+, BOD-5, Copper, Total phosphorus and Water conductivity. In order to be able to communicate her findings to a broader audience most reliably, Woodiana is equipped with the latest GPS tracking technology to monitor her movement and a wireless internet alongside the Woodiana.today web application.
As a freshwater clam, Woodiana is a filter organism. She cleans the Danube by reducing algae, particles and toxic materials from the river just by the way she eats her food. With the cilia in her gills she is able to strain the tiny food particles from the Danube, move them down to her mouth where she eats and eventually digests them. The clean water is then pushed out through the excurrent syphon. Because of her filter feeding powers, the toxic materials remain in her foot, so she can reveal to us the presence of hazardous substances, dioxins and heavy metals, like phosphates, zinc, copper, nickel, but even micro plastics. Unlike other danubian mussels (eg. Unio pictorum, Unio tumidus), which are rather sensitive to toxic materials with often fatal consequences, Woodiana is an experienced anthropocene expert. With great resilience to man-made environments she has the capacity to digest alien substances without troubles and recover from toxic encounters rather quickly. However, when she dies, the large and long-term persistence of her empty shell can be particularly important as a habitat modifying effect, attracting a diverse macroinvertebrate community for amphipods, caddis larvae, isopods and gastropods.
But despite all of these magical features, her most important peculiarity is her act of predicting the future by leaving temporal movement patterns in the river bed. With a distinct sense for the slightest changes in the danubian ecosystems she moves slowly through the shallow waters, leaving traces in the sand like secret symbols. These secret symbols change across space and time, revealing oftentimes ambiguous glimpses of the Danube's future. To the best of our knowledge, until now, no study has examined the horizontal movements of Woodiana in the Danube river. But thanks to Woodiana.today and our mussel path analysts who interpret her drawing with precision and translate it into text, we can now understand and commune with Woodiana the Oracle!
Daily Monitoring of the Movement
Woodiana is an important constituent of the Anthropocene and the Danube ecosystem, yet much of her basic biology remains secret and yet to be examined. The purpose of our study at Woodiana.today is to quantify her movements on a daily basis and to examine how environmental factors influence her motion and paths as they may provide important clues for understanding our aquatic future.
Woodiana was found in the Danube river near Novi Sad at the 1252.2 river km (Long 19,8871, Lat 45,2617) by tactile searching technique “racooning” from a depth of 0.4 m. This stretch of the Danube was chosen for its high Antropochenic impact on the river, which is linked to high concentration of untreated wastewater discharge. As from 15th of March 2021, the monitoring of Woodiana’s movement is continuously conducted and recorded daily as she moves through the sediment surface. We also set up an open laboratory with a monitoring squad in two places: Novi Sad and Vienna. Depending on the terrain, the survey in Novi Sad is carried out by free floating tracking and by underwater mussel viewer, and in Vienna by a digital GPS receiver from the sensor attached to her 15 cm long shell. Additionally, a transponder tag and a fly fishing line is also attached to her shell to measure the depth of her eventual burrowing.
Statistical Analysis of the Movement
Understanding how the Woodiana moves across space and time is a fundamental question in Danube’s ecology. It is already proven that unionid mussels move depending on environmental factors, such as temperature, day length, rising water, reproductive period, the flow and food conditions in rivers. Movement behaviour also may help unionids escape predators and contaminations of the water. But Woodiana’s movement is revealing something more than biology, her movement reports on the upcoming events that goes beyond the river ecology and affects the whole community living on its shores.
From the statistical side, until now, the average rate of daily horizontal movement is 0,8 cm, which means 5,6 cm/wk and 173,6 cm/month. The direction of the movements seems unpredictable, she is frequently turning back in the direction from which she is coming from and crossing her own paths by curling, bouncing, circling or making spirals. She is more often moving toward the shore than away from it, but no significant upstream or downstream movement was detected yet. Surprisingly she was burrowed entirely in the sediment to depths as great as 20 cm during two weeks in the month of July. In August she was motionless for two weeks, until we recharged the GPS batteries and found out that she disappeared from the monitoring spot, and discovered her at the 1255 km of the river. It was the longest distance she had traveled in our study until now, a total of 1,6 km/week.
Analysis of Temporal Patterns in Woodiana’s Movement
The practice of interpreting Woodiana’s movement patterns is echoing the methods of divinations described in I Ching, the Nggam spider and crab divination and tasseography. But unlike these fortune-telling methods of seeking guidance for individual moral decision making, Woodiana is drawing for everybody and for a collective future! She communicates with all of us through her movement in the sediment and all we need to do is to try decoding them! It's time that we tune in to Woodiana’s voice and share her thoughts on the possible futures of the Danube region.
So what does her secret drawings reveal to us? How could we describe her movement patterns? Our team at Woodiana.today proposed a divination manual of her patterns, which were accompanied with text and a series of philosophical commentaries known as prediction cards. These interpretations of her changeable choreography are only here as an instrument of reflection, a speculation between indefinite possibilities of meanings. Each of these temporal patterns of motions represents a different emotion which diviners interpret in regard to their own fears, struggles or confidence.
In our study of interpreting Woodiana’s movement, we are considering her monthly movement pattern, which means that each month we have a new prediction added to the previous ones. Each prediction story is set in a particular time, near or distant future, but also specific seasons, which corresponds to real life events happening already due to climate change or as a result of various historical, economical, medical, cultural and political consequences.
lack of emotional control, droopy, no change, long life, contentment
emotionality, interrupted travel
large and sudden changes, transformation or a transition
3 and more curls
high energy level, emergency, fire
challenges, trouble from strangers
new beginnings, power, good news from another country
food poisoning and other unlucky events
Buried in the sand up to 10 cm
impending doom, severe problem
Buried in the sand 11 cm and more
disaster met through fighting and hatred
low energy level, existential crisis, death
Live horizontal and vertical movement monitoring of Sinanodonta woodiana mussels in relation to lighting. The experiment is carried out in an improvised laboratory - a research microstation at the Center for the Promotion of Science, at Kralja Petra 46, Belgrade.
The experiment is being realized by the Center for the Promotion of Science in cooperation with the online service woodiana.today within the art + science 2021 program "Worlds of Artificial Intelligence", held from September 23 until October 23, 2021.
Scientific consultation and review: dr Maja Raković and dr Stoimir Kolarević, Institute for Biological Research "Siniša Stanković" National Institute of Republic of Serbia, Department of Hydroecology and Water Protection, University of Belgrade, Serbia
The Woodiana Oracle cooperates with the Danube Transformation Agency for Agency (Alexandra Fruhstorfer, Lena Violetta Leitner, Ege Kökel, Solmaz Farhang and Andrea Palašti); Sanja Anđelković and Jovana Pešić.
dr Maja Raković and dr Stoimir Kolarević, Institute for Biological Research "Siniša Stanković" National Institute of Republic of Serbia, Department of Hydroecology and Water Protection, University of Belgrade, Serbia
Center for the Promotion of Science, Belgrade, Serbia
Hélène Masliah-Gilkarov and Adam Kovacs, ICPDR, Vienna, Austria
dr Sanja Bijelović, Institute of Public Health of Vojvodina, Centre of Hygiene and Human Ecology, Faculty of Medicine, University of Novi Sad, Serbia
Aljoša Tanasković, The City Institute for Public Health Belgrade, Belgrade, Serbia
Angewandte Programm for Inter- and Transdisciplinary Projects in Art and Research (INTRA), Vienna, Austria City Administration for Environmental Protection, Novi Sad, Serbia
DISCLAIMER & REFERENCES
This is a work of fiction. The role played by Woodiana in this project is entirely fictional. Although the form of this text is that of a scientific paper, it is not one. Our imagined Woodiana does, however, abide by the generally known facts of the real mussels from the species Sinanodonta woodiana, but the research has no factual basis. All the speculations in this text are based on the following papers:
- Paunović, M., B. Csányi, V. Simić, B. Stojanovic and P. Cakic. 2006. Distribution of Anodonta (Sinanodonta) woodiana (Rea, 1834) in inland waters of Serbia. Aquatic Invasions 1: 154-160.
- Kolarevic, S., Kračun-Kolarević, M., Kostić-Vuković, J., Slobodník, J., & Liška, I., Gačić, Z., Paunović, M., Knežević-Vukčević, J., Vuković-Gačić, B. 2015. Assessment of the genotoxic potential along the Danube River by application of the comet assay on haemocytes of freshwater mussels: The Joint Danube Survey 3. The Science of the total environment.
- Bódis, E., B. Tóth, J. Szekeres, P. Borza, and R. Sousa. 2014a. Empty native and invasive bivalve shells as benthic habitat modifiers in a large river. Limnologica - Ecology and Management of Inland Waters. 49:1-9.
- Douda, K., M. Vrtílek, O. Slavík, and M. Reichard. 2012. The role of host specificity in explaining the invasion success of the freshwater mussel Anodonta woodiana in Europe. Biological Invasions 14:127-137.
- Kiss, A. 1995. The propagation, growth and biomass of the Chinese huge mussel (Anodonta woodiana woodiana Lea, 1834) in Hungary. Dissertation. University of Agricultural Sciences of Gödöllo, Hungary.
- Popa, O., Kelemen, B. S., Murariu, D., Popa, L. 2007. New records of Sinanodonta woodiana (Lea, 1834) (Mollusca: Bivalvia: Unionidae) from Eastern Romania. Aquatic Invasion. 2. 265-267.
- Schwalb, Astrid & Pusch, Martin. 2007. Horizontal and vertical movements of unionid mussels in a lowland river. Journal of the North American Benthological Society. 26. 261-272.
- Amyot, Jean-Pierre and J. Downing. 1997. Seasonal variation in vertical and horizontal movement of the freshwater bivalve Elliptio complanata (Mollusca: Unionidae). Freshwater Biology 37: 345-354.
- Pearce, F. 2015. The new wild: Why invasive species will be nature’s salvation. London: Icon Books.
- Inglis, Meera. 2020. Wildlife Ethics and Practice: Why We Need to Change the Way We Talk About ‘Invasive Species’. Journal of Agricultural and Environmental Ethics. 33: 299–313.
Footnote photographs in order of appearance
- Sinanodonta woodiana. dr Maja Raković, Institute for Biological Research "Siniša Stanković" National Institute of Republic of Serbia, Department of Hydroecology and Water Protection, University of Belgrade, Serbia
- River Yangtze. Encyclopaedia Britannica.
- Glochidium. a, b Brooding females of S. woodiana with demibranchs filled mainly with eggs and embryos (a), glochidia (b). c Embryo in vitelline coat. d Developing glochidia. e, f Mature glochidia. g Hook of glochidium with microstylets. AM adductor, F foot muscle, h hook, LT larval thread, OD outer demibranch, P pallium, VC vitelline coat. Source: Continuous reproduction of Sinanodonta woodiana (Lea, 1824) females: an invasive mussel species in a female-biased population. Scientific Figure on ResearchGate. Available from:
- Hypophthalmichthys molitrix. Harka Akos.
- Eutrophication. USEPA Environmental-Protection-Agency, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
- Hook. Drawing of glochidium of Anodonta cygnea, Edward Step (1855-1931) - Step. E.: Shell life: an introduction to the British Mollusca. - London, New York: F. Warne & co. (1901), page 29
- Mussel. General scheme of the freshwater mussels’ life cycle. From Modesto et al. (2018).
- Hydropower plants. By CrniBombarder!!! Public Domain.
- Mother of Pearl buttons. 20 Pack - Mother Of Pearl Shell 2 hole Buttons.
- Filter organism. Filtrating mussel. The arrows show the direction of the water flowing through the inhalant syphon and out through the exhalant syphon with phytoplankton present in the water column. Source: Vattenkikaren (2000)
- Movement patterns. Mussel meander trail in the Danube. Mila Stojanovic. 2021.
- 1252.2 river km. Navigational Chart of the Danube River in the Republic of Serbia (km 1,433.1 – km 845.5). Ministry of Construction, Transport and Infrastructure. Directorate for Inland Waterways Plovput.
- Racooning. Tactile searching technique “racooning”. Source: Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry (OMNRF). 2018. Survey Protocol for Species at Risk Unionid Mussels in Wetlands in Ontario. Species Conservation Policy Branch. Peterborough, Ontario.
- Untreated wastewater discharge. Film still from the video Explore the Quay. Andrea Palasti. 2021.
- Free floating tracking. Film still from the video of the Maryland Department of Natural Resources. The Maryland Department of Natural Resources conducted a qualitative survey of freshwater mussels in the Patapsco River near to Ellicot City.
- Mussel viewer. Underwater mussel viewer. Source: Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry (OMNRF). 2018. Survey Protocol for Species at Risk Unionid Mussels in Wetlands in Ontario. Species Conservation Policy Branch. Peterborough, Ontario. ii+ 30 pp.
- Transponder tag and a fly fishing line. Image of a pocketbook mussel (Lampsilis cardium) showing the transponder tag and fly fishing line attached to its shell. The fly fishing line is used to measure how deep the mussel is burrowed into the substrate without disturbing the mussel. (Public domain.) Source: