Hydroscape:connectivity x stressor interactions in freshwater habitats

Lead Research Organisation: University College London
Department Name: Geography

Abstract

All types of ecosystems exhibit connectivity at some level. However, connectivity is the quintessential property of aquatic systems. Connectivity matters in freshwaters because it is the means by which energy, materials, organisms and genetic resources move within and between hydrological units of the landscape (the 'hydroscape'). Hydrological connectivity is a particularly effective vector for multiple climatic, biological, chemical and physical stressors, although other forms of connectivity also link freshwater ecosystems. Our proposal addresses the fundamental question of how connectivity and stressors interact to determine biodiversity and ecosystem function in freshwaters.
Connectivity is multifaceted. It may be tangible - water moves downhill or over floodplains, or more subtle - terrestrial organic matter is incorporated into aquatic food webs. Animals and people naturally gravitate to freshwaters, thus providing additional dispersal vectors that can carry propagules to isolated sites. Connectivity may be passive or active and occurs across scales from the local to the global. Freshwater scientists recognise the fundamental role of connectivity in key paradigms such as the river continuum and flood pulse concepts. Land-water connectivity is also the founding principle behind catchment management. However, in reality, a long tradition of focusing on individual stressors, sites, taxonomic groups or habitats, has led to a highly disjointed view of the most intrinsically interconnected resource on the planet. While the need for an integrated approach to water management is universally acknowledged, an understanding of this most fundamental part of the infrastructure of freshwaters is lacking. This is a serious obstacle to meeting critical societal challenges, namely the maintenance of environmental sustainability in the face of multiplying human-induced stresses. Without a more integrated view of the freshwater landscape we struggle to answer basic questions. These include (i) how do organisms, nutrients and energy move naturally within and between landscapes? (ii) how is this basic template altered by different stressors, singly or in combination? (iii) how has widespread alteration of land cover and of the basic infrastructure of freshwaters that largely drives connectivity, redistributed pressures and modified their effects? (iv) how should reductions in stressors and changes to connectivity, that are now widely implemented, be prioritised when seeking to restore biodiversity and ecosystem function?
Our primary aims are to (1) determine how hydrological, spatial and biological connectivity impact on freshwater ecosystem structure and function in contrasting landscape types, and (2) use this understanding to forecast how freshwaters nationally will respond to (i) multiple, interacting pressures and (ii) management actions designed to reduce pressures and/or alter connectivity. We will achieve these aims by working at different spatial (landscape vs national) and temporal (sub-annual to decadal vs centennial) scales and using a combination of complementary well established and more novel molecular and stable isotope techniques. We will combine existing data sources (e.g. archived sediment cores, biological surveys and the millions of records held in national databases) with targeted sampling to maximise cost effectiveness and achieve a cross habitat and ecosystem wide reach.
Landscape scale thinking has become the new mantra of nature conservation and environmental bodies but the knowledge needed to ensure resilience to climate change and to underpin large scale conservation and restoration of aquatic landscapes is currently lacking. In this regard an understanding of how biodiversity and ecosystem function respond to the changing connectivity x stressors arena in freshwaters is critical. The outputs of the proposed research will deliver the integrated understanding of the hydroscape that is now required urgently.

Planned Impact

Our project bridges the gap between policy/management needs and state-of-the-art scientific research on the impacts of connectivity and multiple stressors on freshwater ecosystems. Outputs will provide the scientific evidence base and regulatory guidance needed to support the future sustainable management of freshwater landscapes at the local, national and international scale.
Our results will be useful to organisations engaged in waterbody restoration, biological conservation, the control of invasive species and diseases of wildlife and humans. At the national scale, these include organisations such as Scottish Natural Heritage, Natural England, Natural Resources Wales, Environment Agency, Scottish Environment Protection Agency, GB Non-Native Species Secretariat (NNSS), water utility companies, Wildlife Trusts, National Trust, Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, Plantlife, Buglife and the Rivers Trusts, with all of whom we have long established working relationships. More locally, organisations such as the Norfolk Ponds Project, Norfolk Biodiversity Information Service, Norfolk Wildlife Trust, Norfolk Biodiversity Information Service, Norfolk Farming & Wildlife Advisory Group, Natural England, Norfolk Rivers Trust, Broads Authority (a project partner), River Glaven Conservation Group, Cumbria Wildlife Trust, Eden Rivers Trust, Cumbria Biodiversity Data Centre, Forth Fisheries Trust, Scottish Wildlife Trust, Buglife Scotland, and many other similar organisations will also benefit from a better understanding of the links between connectivity and environmental stressors. In particular, we expect the results of this work to challenge the widely held belief that re-connecting isolated waterbodies and removing obstructions to fish migration are essential features of restoration projects. For example, in highly impacted systems, the adverse effect of the spread of invasive species and/or pollution caused by such re-connections may be greater than any benefit provided by links to refugia that can provide biological source material for recolonisation.
At the local level, our research outputs will help water managers improve biodiversity and habitat quality in a sustainable way. This will result in greater amenity value, with local businesses benefitting from more visitors and increased income, and increases in native biodiversity and water quality, which will help meet conservation objectives. Residents, visitors and local schools will gain a better understanding of the links between environmental stressors, connectivity, biodiversity and ecosystem function, especially through their combined impact on ecosystem service provision.
At the UK level, the results will provide environmental and conservation agencies (e.g. EA, SEPA, SNH, NRW, NE, Defra, RSPB) and policy makers with a better understanding of the processes involved in achieving the sustainable management of freshwaters and their catchments. In particular, appreciating that measures aimed at restoring a particular site may be impacted by connectivity across the freshwater landscape.
At an international level, the results are expected to inform the implementation of the 2020 EU Biodiversity Strategy, which aims to "halt the loss of biodiversity and ecosystem services". More specific international beneficiaries are the Directorate General for the Environment (DG Environment) in relation to informing Water Policy (Water Framework Directive) and Biodiversity Policy (Europe 2020). The proposed work on heavy metals pollution links directly to the EU Environmental Quality Standards Directive (2008/105/EC), which has the "aim of ensuring that existing levels of contamination in biota and sediments will not significantly increase....". We are also focusing on trace metals that are currently listed as 'Priority Substances' or 'Priority Hazardous Substances' under the Water Framework Directive.

Publications

10 25 50
 
Description Assessing recolonization potential of locally-extinct aquatic plants using macrofossils 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact This work was presented a the Yorkshire Palaeo group annual meeting that took place at NewCastle University. The audience was a mixed group of practitioners from nation wide organisation such as History England and academics from PhD level upwards. 27 participants if I remember well.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
 
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 Oral presentation at the 2018 British Ecological Society annual meeting 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Oral presentation at the 2018 British Ecological Society annual meeting by Professor Helen Bennion, 18th December 2018 in the Thematic Session on "Advancing our understanding of long-term ecology: combining ecological & palaeoecology approaches & metrics".

Talk Title: "Assessing the potential for aquatic plant recolonisation after local extirpation: linking historical baselines, contemporary distributions and connectivity to guide lake restoration". Authors: Helen Bennion, Ambroise Baker, Carl Sayer, Carole Roberts, Simon Turner, Viv Jones, and Neil Rose
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
URL https://www.britishecologicalsociety.org/events/bes2018/
 
Description Oral presentation at the Joint 14th International Paleolimnology Symposium and 7th International Limnogeology Congress. Stockholm, Sweden (Turner) 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Oral presentation at the Joint 14th International Paleolimnology Symposium and 7th International Limnogeology Congress. Stockholm, Sweden by Dr Simon Turner on Hydroscape data. Details as follows:

"Land-lake interactions of trace metals in UK lake landscapes" Simon Turner, Neil Rose and Handong Yang
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
URL https://ipa-ial.geo.su.se/
 
Description Presentation at the Joint 14th International Paleolimnology Symposium and 7th International Limnogeology Congress. Stockholm, Sweden (Bennion) 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Oral presentation at the Joint 14th International Paleolimnology Symposium and 7th International Limnogeology Congress. Stockholm, Sweden by Professor Helen Bennion presenting data from the Hydroscape project. The details of the presentation are as follows:

"Linking contemporary species distribution maps and palaeoecological data to locate refugia for aquatic flora in the modern landscape" by Helen Bennion, Ambroise Baker, Carl Sayer, Carole Roberts, Simon Turner, Viv Jones, Neil Rose, Paul Wood and Malcolm Greenwood.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
URL https://ipa-ial.geo.su.se/
 
Description Scottish Freshwater Group presentation 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Oral presentation to the Scottish Freshwater Group by Prof Helen Bennion including Hydroscape activities in the context of previous studies. The details of the presentation are as follows: Bennion, H & Battarbee, RW. 'Environmental Change in Scottish Lochs revisted' . Oral presentation (keynote) at 100th meeting of the Scottish Freshwater Group, Stirling, April 19-20th 2018




Thanks
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
URL https://www.ceh.ac.uk/scottish-freshwater-group-100th-meeting-april-2018
 
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...