Diversity in Upland Rivers for Ecosystem Service Sustainability - DURESS

Lead Research Organisation: Lancaster University
Department Name: Lancaster Environment Centre


With the UK's water valued at £200 billion p.a., Britain's 389,000 km of river ecosystems are arguably our most important. In addition to providing water, they supply other major ecosystem services such as the regulation of flooding and water quality; support to adjacent ecosystems by supplying energy and nutrients; and large cultural value for charismatic organisms, recreation, and education. However, the ways in which organisms and ecosystem functions maintain these services in rivers are extremely poorly understood. This is despite large ongoing effects on river organisms from changing catchment land use, and increasingly also from climate change. Cost implications are large and result, for example, from impacts on recreational fisheries, water treatment costs, and high value river biodiversity. By contrast, opportunities to use management positively to increase the ecosystem service value of rivers by enhancing beneficial in-river organisms have barely been considered.

In this project, we will focus on four examples of river ecosystem services chosen to be explicitly biodiversity-mediated: the regulation of water quality; the regulation of decomposition; fisheries and recreational fishing; and river birds as culturally valued biodiversity. Each is at risk from climate/land use change, illustrating their sensitivity to disturbance thresholds over different time scales. These services vary in attributable market values, and all require an integrated physical, biogeochemical, ecological and socio-economic science perspective that none of the project partners could deliver alone.

Using river microbes, invertebrates, fish and river birds at levels of organisation from genes to food webs, we will test the overarching hypothesis that: "Biodiversity is central to the sustainable delivery of upland river ecosystem services under changing land-use and climate". Specifically, we will ask: 1. What is the range of services delivered by upland rivers, and which are biologically mediated? 2. What are the links between biodiversity (from genes to food webs) and service delivery? 3. How does river biodiversity affect the rate or resilience of ecosystem service delivery through time? 4. How do changes in catchment land use/ management and climate affect river biota? 5. How should river biodiversity be managed to sustain ecosystem services?

At spatial scales ranging from small experimental catchments to the whole region, and at temporal scales from sub-annual to over three decades, the work will be carried out in upland Wales as a well-defined geographical area of the UK that is particularly rich in the spatially extensive and long-term data required for the project.

Planned Impact

The research findings of the project will have a direct impact on academic researchers, the water industry, conservationists, land managers, policy makers and regulators, and the general public. Impact will be maximised by the participation in the project of representatives of each of these beneficiaries.

Academic beneficiaries: Detailed information on novel methods and approaches to quantify the key aspects of biodiversity that underpin delivery of ecosystem services, and to identify key thresholds and/or resilience in service delivery will be important for community ecologists, system ecologists, hydrologists, and social-economic scientists. Key harmonised and updated environmental databases on rivers as well as information for climate change adaptation and land use management will bring further benefit, in particular to aid development of valuation methods for ecosystems.

The water industry: In deepening our understanding of the relationship between landuse/management and climate changes and river ecosystem processes, this project will help the water industry implement a whole catchment approach to water quality management. In particular it will help to identify options to reduce and manage impacts on water quality, notably in areas that add large costs to water treatment such as elevated nitrate and Dissolved Organic Carbon content, color, and waterborne pathogens that are not controlled using standard water disinfection such as Cryptosporidium.

Land managers: Management of land to minimize impacts on rivers and their ecosystems is a central aim of River Basin Management Plans to deliver compliance with the Water Framework Directive. Agri-environment schemes are a key delivery mechanism where managers need better information on the resilience of river ecosystems and the sensitivity of land use to biodiversity and ecosystem health. This is particularly in the context of meeting the challenge of climate change and the possible ways that land use changes may occur to mitigate climate change and to adapt to climate change.

Conservation managers: The project will provide better information on how protecting and enhancing biodiversity may increase the resilience to deliver ecosystem services, notably in the face of land and climate changes. This will enable conservation efforts that currently revolve around flora and fauna to have a stronger justification in terms of delivering human benefits. The ability to use valuation methods to assess and decide on management options will add greatly to the rigour of these processes and help to justify implementation.

Policy makers and regulators: The project will help this group to develop measures which deliver on the objective of achieving good ecological status of rivers. Valuation methods will help to decide on how management schemes should be designed to optimize delivery of ecosystem services, and to design ways to achieve resilience to the challenges of environmental change.

General public: Most people do not have a clear idea of the way that conservation measures are designed and implemented. By linking biodiversity to ecosystem services and their values, the public will have a better understanding of what conservation policies are trying to achieve. As well as being crucial to ecosystem function the project will show the considerable amenity value of river systems.


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Description Lancaster component (NE/J014826/1) of the NERC DURESS Consortium project addressed Objective 3 (Time series modelling of ecosystem function & resilience) and Objective 4: (Land-use & climate impacts on biodiversity) under Work-package 4 that Lancaster led. The objectives were addressed via three questions: 1) What are causes of the long and short-term dynamics in biodiversity and water quality in upland rivers and how can they be quantified? 2) What time-scales (minutes, days, seasons and decades) dominate the dynamics of river biodiversity and water quality for upland Welsh rivers, and what are the implications for sampling ecosystem services? 3) What is the relative impact of climate characteristics (extremes, seasons etc) versus land-use characteristics on status and change in biodiversity, resilience and ecosystem services in upland rivers?

We demonstrated (through our innovative high frequency monitoring and parsimonious modelling) that short-term (sub-hourly) dynamics in hydrometric and water quality variables during storms dominates over longer-term patterns. The hydroclimatic controls dominate over the land-use controls on the water quality dynamics. The findings on the key controls on aquatic biodiversity were published in Jones and Chappell (2014 Hydrol Res) and Jones, Chappell and Tych (2014 Environ Sci Technol), and disseminated via conference presentations. The direct link between these hydrological controls on aquatic biodiversity will be addressed in Vaughan et al. (in prep) in the remaining months of the project (end date: 30/6/2016) and associated data disseminated via an EIDC DOI.
Exploitation Route Our findings can be used by others (academicians, water practitioners, environmental regulators etc) to define monitoring intervals required to quantify the dominant dynamics of hydrometric and water quality variables.

Field and modelling technologies developed by our project can be used by land managers, policy makers and scientists to quantify hydrological and water quality differences between different land-covers and adaptations of land management.
Sectors Agriculture

Food and Drink



Democracy and Justice

URL http://www.es.lancs.ac.uk/people/nickc/nproject5.htm
Description Shared developed expertise in 1) real-time monitoring of water quality variables and 2) our numerical methods for extracting process information from observed dynamics, with the UK water sector (e.g., via an invited presentation to the Sensors for Water Interests Group and field meetings with Welsh Water Dwr Cymru in 2014). In 2016 began contributions to the UK national review of the impacts of woodlands on river-flows (e.g., can woodland planting mitigate flood flows?) and to Forest Research's appraisal of their long-term forest monitoring data-sets; both using findings and numerical technologies developed under project NE/J014826/1.
First Year Of Impact 2014
Sector Agriculture, Food and Drink,Environment,Government, Democracy and Justice
Impact Types Economic

Policy & public services

Title Derived annual statistics of rainfall, streamflow and acidity for the Nant Esgair Garn catchment, Llyn Brianne, Mid Wales, UK. (1982 to 2012) 
Description This dataset comprises of derived annual statistics for measures of rainfall, streamflow, temperature and stream acidity (pH) for a stream, draining a small, approximately 0.6 square kilometres, upland grassland catchment. The stream, Nant Esgair Garn, drains into the Llyn Brianne reservoir, Powys, United Kingdom. The data are for a 31 year period covering 1st April 1982 to 1st April 2012. The streamflow and acidity data are derived from 15 minute resolution observations throughout the calendar year 2013 from associated stream gauging and water quality stations on the Nant Esgair Garn. The monthly rainfall measures presented, were derived from local rain gauges. The monthly temperature measures presented were derived from observations at a weather station near Talgarth, Powys. Routines within the Lancaster University Computer-Aided Program for Time-series Analysis and Identification of Noisy Systems (CAPTAIN) Toolbox for Matlab were used to develop a dynamic model of these data. These models were then used to simulate the 31-year record for which monthly statistics were derived. The statistics were derived to develop greater understanding of the controls on the long-term dynamics of aquatic biodiversity observed by other researchers in this stream. The work was part of the Diversity in Upland River Ecosystem Service Sustainability (DURESS) project, NERC grant NE/J014826/1. Members of staff from the Lancaster Environment Centre, Lancaster University installed, maintained and downloaded the stream gauging and water quality stations and also carried out statistical analysis of the data. 
Type Of Material Database/Collection of data 
Year Produced 2016 
Provided To Others? Yes