Dispersal and biodiversity impacts on community assembly and ecosystem services in shallow lake landscapes

Lead Research Organisation: University College London
Department Name: Geography

Abstract

Summary

The Rio Summit of 1992 propelled biodiversity into a global spotlight pointing to tremendous human-induced species losses in the Earth's ecosystems. Now there is an urgent need to advance our knowledge on how and why species disappear from ecosystems and the implications of these losses for important goods and services that we rely on (e.g. drinking water, food, spiritual values). One crucial landscape feature thought to have a major influence on biodiversity is connectivity - how connected habitats within the landscape are with one another. A key issue here is alteration of our natural landscapes via the creation of roads, towns and farmland. Under such circumstances natural habitats become isolated and degraded which impedes the dispersal of native species. We believe, based on preliminary evidence, that ease of dispersal across the landscape is a key feature that reduces rates of species loss in human-affected ecosystems thus preserving high biodiversity and valuable (monetary and cultural values) ecosystem services.

Lakes are uniquely useful for examining questions about biodiversity, connectivity and ecosystem services as they permit long-term (over centuries) changes in biodiversity to be studied through the analysis of fossil remains in sediment cores. The majority of aquatic organisms (e.g. algae, plants, invertebrates) leave identifiable parts in sediments, which can be dated to reveal a history of ecological change. In the proposed study we will focus on two UK lake districts: the Norfolk Broads, England and the Upper Lough Erne (ULE) lakes, Northern Ireland. Both contain numerous (60+) shallow lakes, have a long history of agricultural pollution (50-100 years) and have been subject to invasions of non-native species (notably zebra mussels). However, the Broads are mostly highly degraded, having generally turbid water with few plants, while the ULE lakes have generally clear waters and abundant and species-rich plant beds. We propose that this key difference relates to elevated connectivity amongst the ULE lakes due to a higher density of linking channels and the occurrence of winter floods which cover much of the system. This, we believe, enhances the exchange of plants and plant seeds, which in turn buffers against permanent plant extinctions in individual lakes, despite pressures from pollution.

Through the collation and collection of data on present-day water plant abundance and diversity in many individual lakes in these two systems, analysis of the amounts of carbon, nitrogen and phosphorus taken up by plants in these lakes, and by analysing sediment cores to detect changes in aquatic plant diversity and pollution over time, our research will address the following key questions:

1. Does higher connectivity buffer biodiversity loss in the face of pollution and species invasions?
2. How do changes in water plant diversity affect key functions of lake ecosystems that in turn influence the services they provide to humans?
3. Can knowledge gained from questions 1 and 2 be translated into changed conservation practices to reduce biodiversity and ecosystem service losses from aquatic landscapes?

Our project will give policy makers and conservation organisations vital information to inform landscape planning, such as the need to prioritise protection of existing high biodiversity areas (e.g. species-rich lakes) and to maintain connectivity of such sites with others. We anticipate generating an evidence-base that will argue for the maintenance or enhancement of connectivity to increase the resilience of our ecosystems to future biodiversity loss. In a world threatened by climate change, habitat fragmentation and pollution, knowledge of the relationships between dispersal, biodiversity and key ecosystem services is essential to our well being.

Planned Impact

Who will benefit from this research?

Our project will show how considerations of dispersal and connectivity might help to better protect biodiversity and key ecosystem services in disturbed aquatic landscapes. It will be of interest to the following beneficiaries:

Policy-makers:
The proposed project should be of considerable interest to policy makers as it addresses a number of issues that are picked up by recent strategic reports (see below).

Environment agencies, conservation managers and NGOs:
The study areas are key wetland conservation sites recognised by local (county BAP targets, Local Nature Reserves), UK (e.g. SSSI, NNR), European (EU Water Framework Directive (WFD) and Habitats Directive) and International (Ramsar) conservation legislation. Consequently they are the concern of several conservation organisations, NGOs and wildlife charities, notably, IUCN, Environment Agency, NI Environment Agency (NIEA), Natural England, Broads Authority, Wildlife Trusts, National Trust, RSPB, Plantlife, Buglife, Broads Society etc. The key relevant statutory bodies have all given written support for this study.

Stakeholders and local people:
The Upper Lough Erne (ULE) and the Norfolk & Suffolk Broads lake areas are cherished by many people who use them for angling (e.g. represented by the Ulster Angling Federation [UAF - see letter of support] and the Broads Angling Strategy Group), boating, sailing and natural history (e.g. Broads Society). In addition many people live and work in these iconic wetlands and love them for purely spiritual, life-affirming and cultural reasons.

How will they benefit from this research?

Policy making and environmental planning:
Our hypothesis is that high connectivity and the existence of species-rich "core" lakes highly connected to others buffers against ecosystem degradation (e.g. eutrophication forcing, species invasions, climate change) at the regional scale, at least in the intermediate term. By extension such features may also accelerate the rehabilitation of degraded lakes. If our hypothesis holds true, policy makers and legislators will have an evidence-base from which to make key landscape-scale policy and planning decisions. Further, organisations charged with delivering EU Water Framework Directive (WFD) and Habitats Directive objectives (e.g. EA, Natural England, NIEA) will have vital information to inform decisions on conservation planning and spending. For example, it might be advisable to prioritise protection of existing high quality lakes with the knowledge that this is essential to the achievement of improvements across the rest of the system. Finally, in affording information on plant productivity and nutrient and carbon storage in plant stands within our lakes and lake districts, and how these factors vary over time, we can provide the basis for a financial analysis of some of the benefits/costs of biodiversity loss in terms of implications for receiving water courses and the value of carbon sequestered, as well as providing a larger scale perspective on the place of shallow lakes in carbon accounting.

Enrichment of people's lives:
The ULE and Broads wetlands are beautiful, semi-natural areas of the UK. By giving a clear direction to local conservation management our project will help to maintain and restore complex, vibrant and species-rich lake networks e.g. multiple clear water lakes with abundant and diverse population of plants. In this respect both residents and visitors to the two lake districts will benefit from the services (e.g. clean water, fisheries, natural history) that the wetlands provide. Local populations are passionate about the Broads and ULE lakes due to long-standing connections with the landscape and if our project helps to protect their ecological integrity into the future, then generations of local people will benefit.

Publications

10 25 50

 
Description We put together a large amount of environmental and biological data, otherwise difficult to access and compared our two shallow lake study regions (The Broads and the Upper Lough Erne region, Northern Ireland) in terms of ecological responses to eutrophication in space and time. We used this data to test new ideas regarding the important influence of connectivity on biodiversity and for the delivery of ecosystem services. Our data strongly suggest that high connectivity amongst the Upper Lough Erne shallow lakes has, to a large extent, buffered eutrophication impacts. Nevertheless, our work strongly suggests that eutrophication continues at a pace such that, eventually, it is likely that Upper Lough Erne lakes will resemble the more degraded state of the Broads (low plant abundance, low diversity).
Exploitation Route The themes addressed in this research and one of the study regions (The Broads) are currently being taken forward though a large UK-wide research programme recently funded by a NERC highlight Topic Consortium grant, namely "Hydroscape": Connectivity x stressor interaction in freshwater habitats.

We have highlighted an important eutrophication problem to conservation managers and local people (especially anglers and natural historians) in the Upper Lough Erne region. The comparison between the currently highly biodiverse Upper Lough Erne lakes and the degraded species-poor Broads has afforded a powerful message to both of these stakeholder groups and into the future lessons from the Broads will hopefully be considered by conservationists in the Northern Ireland Environment Agency. Further, against a background of increasing economic pressure to intensify agriculture and develop boat-based tourism in the Upper Lough Erne system, we have provided information to local people which will help them to lobby for nutrient reduction and conservation-friendly boating.
Sectors Environment

URL https://lakebess.wordpress.com/
 
Description Our Lake BESS project has had important impacts on two main fronts for our Norfolk & Suffolk Broads and Upper Lough Erne shallow lake ecosystems. Firstly, for both lake districts, our results on connectivity and landscape-scale conservation have influenced conservation management and restoration aimed at enhancing biodiversity and ecosystem services. In particular our research has contributed to a greater consideration of connectivity in conservation agendas. This is especially true of the Broads system, where a background of declining nutrient levels is now raising the connectivity issue, with the potential to re-connect lakes to the main Broads rivers and with surrounding dyke and ditch systems. Our work has opened up a new debate in this area. Secondly, the data collected as part of the Lake BESS project highlights an urgent need for in-depth assessment of the ecological situation at our Upper Lough Erne study system. We have flagged a major eutrophication issue that is continuing at a pace despite high connectivity and a recent invasion of the system by filter-feeding zebra mussels. We are working closely with the Northern Ireland Environmental Agency (NIEA) to make sure that our work has a direct impact on maintaining heathy lake biodiversity and associated ecosystem services. In the Upper Lough Erne system we have highlighted the major importance to biodiversity conservation, not only of the main lake, but also of the satellite lake system. We have increased awareness of the eutrophication problem amongst local people, including fisherman and natural historians in particular.
Sector Environment,Leisure Activities, including Sports, Recreation and Tourism
Impact Types Cultural,Societal,Economic,Policy & public services

 
Description Feed into Review of evidence for the Lough Erne Landscape Partnership (Heritage Lottery Fund)
Geographic Reach Local/Municipal/Regional 
Policy Influence Type Citation in systematic reviews
Impact The £2 mio secured by the Lough Erne partnership will be extremely benefical to the environment sustainability in the area. The award was announced in 2016 and it is very early stage to detail the impacts but our research is part of the evidence the Partenership is reviewing for the area and will impact the actions the Partnership will take.
URL http://lelp.org.uk/
 
Description Hydroscape: Connectivity x stressor interaction in freshwater habitats
Amount £3,650,000 (GBP)
Funding ID NE/N005953/1 
Organisation Natural Environment Research Council 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 11/2015 
End 11/2019
 
Description 100th Ecological Society of America Annual Meeting, Baltimore, USA. Does connectivity increase resilience of biodiversity against eutrophication in networks of shallow lakes? 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Dissemination of our research in the international academic community. This will have a long-term impact in that it is part of the process of changing views amongst international colleagues by presenting the evidences collected with this projects.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015
 
Description Aquatic Biodiversity and Ecosystems Conference, Liverpool, UK 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact This talk was aimed to academic researchers and other professional pactitioners working with aquatic systems - I spoke to several people afterwards and I am still in touch with some researchers working in the same area but on continental Europe. This talk was important for the dissemination of our findings.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015
 
Description Development of a web site and blog promoting cross-lake (Norfolk & Suffolk Broads, eastern England & Upper Lough Erne Lakes, Northern Ireland) comparisons of environmental threats and conservation practices 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact http://lakebess.wordpress.com/
The website (link above) has stimulated much discussion and several local people and conservation managers from the Broads and Upper Lough Erne lake areas have contacted us and asked for further infirmation or have shared knowledge.

An increase in knowledge among local people, land owners and conservationists in the Broads and Upper Lough Erne lake areas with regards to the key role of connectivity in delivering ecosystem services and in mitigating impacts of nutrient-enrichment
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2013
 
Description Freshwater Biological Association News article, No. 63 Summer 2014, page 15. 
Form Of Engagement Activity A magazine, newsletter or online publication
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Baker, A.& Sayer, C.D. (2014) Can connectivity mitigate the adverse effect of eutrophication on shallow lake biodiversity and ecosystem services? Freshwater Biological Association News, No. 63 Summer 2014, page 15.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2014
 
Description Guest lecture on lake connectivity for PRIDE, an EU Horizon-2020 Innovative Doctoral Training Network 2015-2019. Brunell University, UK. 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Postgraduate students
Results and Impact This guest lecture for PhD student intended to highlight the importance of connecitivity in aquatic systems on the basis of the knowledge generated with this award.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
URL http://www.pontocaspian.eu/
 
Description Oral presentation at the 15th International Symposium of Aquatic Plants, February 19th 2018, New Zealand 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact The purpose of this presentation was to disseminate our research result to an international audience of >30 practitioners and academics concerned with aquatic plants. The main outcome was that the talk raised awareness of the importance of landscape connectivity for aquatic plants biodiversity and conservation
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
URL https://ambroisebakerresearch.wordpress.com/2018/03/08/research-on-biodiversity-in-the-upper-lough-e...
 
Description Stakeholder meeting presenting Lake BESS results focused on the Norfolk and Suffolk Broads, 7th January 2016 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact A stakeholder meeting composed of conservation professionals and local lake managers and users focused on the importance of connectivity to lake conservation goals. Project results were presented and a dicussion was held focused on the pros and cons of increased connectivity.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
 
Description Stakeholder meeting presenting Lake BESS results focused on the Upper Lough Erne shallow lakes, December 2015 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact A stakeholder meeting focused on the key importance of connectivity to lake conservation and also on eutrophication trends in the Upper Lough Erne lakes. Lake BESS project results were presented. A series of talks followed by much discussion.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015
 
Description Talk at London Freshwater Group meeting 18th March, 2016 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Postgraduate students
Results and Impact A talk presenting key project results.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
 
Description Talk at Plenary Session: Baker, A. G., et al. (2017). Landscape connectivity is important for lake ecosystem function and biodiversity. Joint BES and BESS Symposium 2017: Advances in Biodiversity & Ecosystem Services, Cardiff, UK. 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Third sector organisations
Results and Impact I gave this talk to present our work on freshwater connectivity to other academics working in my field of research. This led to several discussions with other academics on how to account for connectivity when managing freshwater ecosystems for biodiveristy and services.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
URL https://ambroisebakerresearch.wordpress.com/2017/04/27/lake-bess-results-presented-at-the-bes-bess-s...
 
Description Talk entitled: "Why we need natural history more than ever" given as a presidential address to the Norfolk & Norwich Naturalists Society 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Presidential Address to the Norfolk & Norwich Naturalists Society that made a comparison between the Norfolk Broads shallow lakes and the shallow lakes of Upper Lough Erne, hence covering much data and the key conclusions of the LakeBESS project
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
 
Description Talk on project results to Waterway Ireland stakeholder, November 2015 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact A talk on project results to a key stakeholder group. Waterways Ireland promote recreational boating and tourism in the Upper Lough Erne region.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015
URL http://www.waterwaysireland.org/
 
Description UK and Northern Ireland Lakes Network Newsletter, Issue 2, January 2015 "Lake BESS Project" 
Form Of Engagement Activity A magazine, newsletter or online publication
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact The UK and Ireland Lakes Network is composed of conservation practioners concerned with lake conservation in the UK. This article introduced the project to them.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015
URL http://www.ukandirelandlakes.org/