The INRA Lake Hydrobiology Unit in Thonon has been working for several decades on the ecology of subalpine lakes. Its research topics initially focused on the consequences of eutrophication on the lake ecosystem. At the beginning of the 1980s, in order to meet society's demands, this subject was extended first to phosporus transfer in watersheds then to fish population dynamics. Finally, in 1998, a group was formed to study the ecotoxicology of photosynthetic microorganisms and the proliferation of cyanobacteria. On the 1st of January 1999, the unit became a Joint Research Unit (CARRTEL – Centre Alpin de Recherche sur les Réseaux Trophiques et Ecosystèmes Lacustres – Alpine Center for Research on Lake Ecosystems and Food Webs) associated with an aquatic microbiology laboratory of the University of Savoy. In 2003, the Soil Science Laboratory of the University of Savoy became a part of CARRTEL.
The CARRTEL now has a permanent staff of 45 as well as approximately 15 people completing their PhD or on post-doctoral or research courses. The CARRTEL has a chemical analysis laboratory for water certified by the Ministry of the Environment, a microbiology laboratory, experimental fish breeding facilities, measuring and field sampling equipment (automatic water samplers, continuous flow centrifuges, specially-equipped boats, a multiparameter probe and fluorimetric probe, plankton bottles and nets, sounders, trawl, etc) and equipment for the biological analysis of samples (flow cytometer, microscopes, scintillation counter, video-microscopes, magnifiers, sequencers, etc) and equipment for marking fish. The Unit shares analysis facilities with the University, in particular for the physical characterisation of sediments and suspensions (laser granulometer and scanning electron microscope).
One of the CARRTEL's priorities is studying the functioning and evolution of lake systems in relation with their watersheds. The disciplinary field in question is Limnology. Research is conducted with a view to help in decision-making in the natural resource management of large lakes and to participate in the current major scientific debates of the functional role of biodiversity and the impact of global changes on ecosystems. The studies entail long-term follow-up which constitute a precious environmental database to understand the effects of anthropisation and climatic changes.
The CARRTEL has a European perspective, participating in a REX project (Euro-limpacs: global change impacts on European lake ecosystems), in the «CHARRNET» network, in the current EUROLAKES programme ("Integrated Water Resource Management for Important Deep European Lakes and their Catchment Areas"), and in a French-Swiss-Italian INTERREG programme focusing on ecogenetics of trout (identification and conservation strategy of native populations, involving the collaboration of the Universities of Bern and Padua and INRA Jouy-en-Josas).
Its scientific partnership is also structured around multidisciplinary research involving a global approach to the causes and impact of pollution in rural environments (INRA-CEMAGREF programme « AQUAE » coordinated by Thonon and including in particular colleagues belonging to 3 units of the Hydrobiology and Wildlife Department and to the INRA-ENV laboratory).
The partnership in research and in research-development is organised around 3 Scientific Interest Groups (SIG): the "Northern Alps" SIG (including INRA-CEMAGREF and Chambers of Agriculture of the Alps for mission-oriented research on themes concerning the relations between agriculture, development and environment), the "lakes" SIG (which associates INRA, CSP and CEMAGREF teams around 4 themes: network, sampling, indicators and management) and the "cyanobacteria" SIG (22 research teams belonging to 15 different institutes: CNRS, AFSSA, IP, Cemagref, ENS, Universities...).All the research conducted by the CARRTEL is undertaken in close collaboration with the socio-economic partners:
International Commission for the Protection of Lake Geneva Waters (CIPEL), Intercommunal Association of Lake Annecy (SILA), Water Agencies, CISALB at Lake Bourget, for monitoring lake quality,
Evian Water Company, Chambers of Agriculture and SIVOM for problems involving diffuse pollution,
DDAF and professional and amateur fishing associations, for halieutic management.