Freshwater biodiversity and ecosystem function in changing moorland landscapes

Lead Research Organisation: University of Leeds
Department Name: Sch of Geography


The hydrology, soils and ecology of moorland are vulnerable to local environmental change, and in many areas uninformed management has increased erosion and flooding, and degraded the water quality and biodiversity of streams. Whilst much research has been directed at the terrestrial component of moorland, the aquatic habitats they support are rarely investigated. In particular, we know little about the structure of ecological communities in rivers and streams draining moorland (particularly heavily managed moors). A number of rivers that drain moorland in England, including the Eden, Wharfe, Cumbrian Derwent, Yorkshire Derwent, Camel and Wye, are designated as Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), with some of these additionally designated as Special Areas of Conservation (SAC) under the EU Habitats and Species Directive. Thus a more complete understanding of the communities inhabiting moorland streams, and their response to habitat variability and management pressures, is vital if agencies such as Natural England (NE) are to protect these sites and the wider network of upland streams, and guide sustainable restoration and management schemes. The main aim of this project is to understand how contemporary changes in UK moorlands influence the structure (algal and macroinvertebrate biodiversity) and function (production, trophic interactions) of stream ecosystems,and consider the conservation implications of these findings through collaboration with Natural England. Specifically, the project will examine the influence of spatiotemporal differences of moorland stream physicochemistry across 'intact' moorlands. Subsequent analyses will compare these intact 'control' sites with streams draining sites subject to controlled burning (utilising paired catchment approaches). Key objectives of this project will be: 1. To undertake detailed field investigations across North Pennine moorlands with minimal management, to gain a better understanding of how spatiotemporal differences in stream physicochemistry influence algal and invertebrate biodiversity, and aspects of ecosystem function (i.e. secondary production). 2. To undertake detailed field investigations across North Pennine moorlands with intensive burning, and compare these with results from Obj. 1, to gain an understanding of how elevated nutrients and organic particulates influence algal and invertebrate biodiversity, and secondary production. 3. To utilise a NE funded stream mesocosm facility at Moor House, Upper Teesdale, to experimentally examine the effects of elevated nutrient concentrations (using constant injections over fixed time periods), increased particulate concentrations (by adding a known weight of dried peat particles) and ash deposits (from combusted heather and peat) on stream ecosystem structure (primary producers and invertebrates). Experiments will be fully replicated to examine the individual and interactive effects of increased nutrient loads, organic particulates and ash on algae and invertebrate community structure. 4. To consider wider implications for environmental targets used in conservation objectives for designated upland streams and rivers by agencies such as Natural England. Fieldwork will be undertaken from Spring 2009-2011 across the North Pennines. The student will be trained in a range of methods including: (i) hydrological analysis, (ii) water quality monitoring, and (iii) stream ecology. The student will be based at the 5 RAE rated School of Geography, University of Leeds, and additional training will be provided through collaboration with Natural England and the University of Birmingham. The student will undertake a placement with NE in year 2, working for 1 month with local and national officers and gaining an appreciation of the practical implications of their research. In particular, the placement will provide training in translating research into conservation targets for rivers in areas designated as SSSI and SAC.


10 25 50