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The IUCN Freshwater Plant Specialist Group

August 26, 2015
River Water-dropwort.  A species that is Near Threatened outside of populations in rivers and streams in the UK and Ireland.  Image: R Lansdown

River Water-dropwort. A species that is Near Threatened outside of populations in rivers and streams in the UK and Ireland. Image: R Lansdown

The IUCN Freshwater Plant Specialist Group is a global network of scientists and researchers with an interest in the conservation of wetland plants. It was formed initially with the support of the Fondation Tour du Valat and Plantlife under the umbrella of the Species Survival Commission (SSC) of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

The Freshwater Plant Specialist Group is one of around 120 Specialist Groups coordinated by the IUCN Species Survival Commission. These are communication networks of people with a common interest, which exist to support and further the conservation of the organisms for which they are responsible. Each Group has a Chair (responsible for the overall coordination of the Group), a Red List Authority (responsible for the coordination of IUCN Red List assessments of extinction risk) and members.

Lesser water-plantain.  Image: R Lansdown

Lesser water-plantain, a flowering herb found in peaty bogs and ponds. Image: R Lansdown

The Chair of the Group, Richard Lansdown (whose fantastic photographs illustrate this piece) explains more:

“The Freshwater Plant Specialist Group was initiated after discussion between Will Darwall of the IUCN Freshwater Biodiversity Unit and me around a meeting of the IUCN Freshwater Conservation Steering Committee on which we both serve in June 2011. IUCN had long been looking to establish a freshwater plant specialist group but was looking for the right chair.

My proposal to establish the group, supported by the Fondation Tour du Valat and PlantLife was unanimously agreed at a meeting of the IUCN Council in June 2011. I was initially reluctant to commit to establishing the group but was convinced by the people I met at the second meeting of the IUCN SSC Specialist Group Chairs in 2012. I formally signed the papers establishing the group in 2013. The Freshwater Plant Specialist Group now has over 140 members in more the 60 countries, with many organisation represented among the members.”

Eryngium corniculatum, a plant of Mediterranean wetlands. Image: R Lansdown

Eryngium corniculatum, a plant of Mediterranean wetlands. Image: R Lansdown

The Freshwater Plant Specialist Group exists to promote and further the conservation of wetland plant species and the habitats upon which they depend. Its aim is to achieve this through a combination of:

  • Establishing a database of all aquatic and wetland plants, including vascular plants, bryophytes, lichens and algae that are dependent upon wetlands. The database will store information on the taxonomy, nomenclature and distribution of each species, with the aim that it be improved through review by FPSG members. The foundation of the database has been established with funding from EU Biofresh (Biodiversity of Freshwater Ecosystems) project and work by Nur Ritter.
  • Assessment of the conservation status of all wetland-dependent plants using the IUCN Red List categories and criteria.
  • Preparation of action plans for the conservation of wetland-dependent plants, initially concentrating on specific regions for which a regional Red List assessment of freshwater-dependent plants has been completed.
  • Support for individual projects proposed by the members. This support will mainly take the form of providing information and links to contacts, as well as assistance with preparation of funding proposals.
Ranunculus hybrid in the River Creuse, France.  Image: R Lansdown

Ranunculus hybrid in the River Creuse, France. Image: R Lansdown

Richard further outlines the collaborative nature of the Group:

“Although specifically aimed at conservation of wetland-dependent plants, wetland conservation cannot be successful without information on the environment on which the plants depend, or on methods of managing this environment. Therefore, whilst the membership of the group will be dominated by botanists, people with an interest in plants but their main knowledge and experience in other disciplines such as hydrology, geology, geomorphology and water management will also be welcomed as members.”

Read more about the Freshwater Plant Specialist Group here.

Hippuris x lanceolata, a hybrid species of mare's tail, found in many waterways across Europe.  Image: R Lansdown

Hippuris x lanceolata, a hybrid species of mare’s tail, found in many waterways across Europe. Image: R Lansdown

Photographs from the MARS river basin modelling workshop in Tulcea, Romania

August 24, 2015

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One of the most important areas of work in the MARS project is modelling how freshwater ecosystems (and the services they provide) respond to multiple stressors at a river basin catchment scale.

A group of MARS scientists working on river basin modelling recently met for five days in Tulcea, Romania, to collaboratively develop and standardise their use of statistical analysis.

MARS scientist Christian Feld was on hand to take a selection of photographs at the workshop: both of the participants at work, and of the beautiful River Danube and surrounding landscape.

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Tweeting the Freshwater Glossary

August 17, 2015

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It is largely agreed that the results of scientific research should be made available to public audiences in ways that are as clear and accessible as possible.  This is a big challenge for scientists and science communicators.  There are many convincing arguments that making scientific research available to the public – and particularly in engaging in dialogue about it – is a valuable step in fostering democratic and transparent political decision-making about big issues.

However, scientific research is often structured and carried out using key terms and phrases that aren’t regularly used in most of our daily lives.  This can sometimes make it difficult to understand (and even communicate) why and how scientific research is undertaken and the outcomes it might have for public and political life.

This is why the Freshwater Glossary has been established on the Freshwater Information Platform website.  The Freshwater Glossary collects a large set of key terms and phrases that underpin freshwater science, and gives short descriptions of what they mean.

Collected from a number of previous European Union projects, the Glossary is designed to help anyone – whether an interested layperson, student, researcher or policy maker – get to grips with some of the most important terms and concepts in freshwater science.

Over the coming weeks, we’ll be sharing the Freshwater Glossary through our Twitter account @freshwaterblog.  We encourage you to follow us on Twitter (if you’re not signed up, there’s a large and vibrant community of water professionals, managers, researchers and policy makers on the site, making it potentially very rewarding) and to share the Glossary tweets if you’re so inclined.

Similarly, if there are any key terms or phrases that you feel are missing from the Glossary, then please leave a comment here or email info@freshwaterplatform.eu

Freshwater Glossary
Freshwater Blog Twitter

The MARS ‘cookbook’ for assessing freshwater multiple stresses and ecosystem services

August 10, 2015
River Great Ouse in arable farmland.  © Copyright Hugh Venables and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence

River Great Ouse in arable farmland in Southern England. Multiple stressors from nutrient pollution affect the ecosystem services that this river can provide. Image: Hugh Venables | Creative Commons

Last week we wrote about the new MARS factsheets, which are designed to give brief, accessible and engaging introductions to some of the key freshwater topics covered by the project.  This week, we introduce the first factsheet (pdf), which outlines the new ‘cookbook’ methodology for understanding how multiple stressors on freshwaters affect the ecosystem services they can provide to humans.

Ecosystem services are the benefits that people obtain from ecosystems, which contribute both directly and indirectly to human well-being. Their designation helps highlight and value the key roles that biodiversity and ecosystem functions play in providing multiple benefits to humans, such as food, clean water and sanitation. This in turn, can help support, legitimate and strengthen environmental policy and conservation, a topic which MARS scientist Steve Ormerod wrote about last year, which we covered on the blog.

Screen shot 2015-08-10 at 10.11.46The MARS project assesses the impacts of multiple stressors on the provision of ecosystem services from freshwater ecosystems, under different climatic and land-use scenarios. The project has developed an innovative new assessment methodology – termed a ‘cookbook’ – to allow scientists, environmental managers and policy makers to quantify the relationships between multiple stresses and ecosystem service provision and value. The cookbook provides an invaluable tool to support the implementation of the Water Framework Directive in Europe.

The MARS cookbook allows users to assess how the impacts of multiple stresses affects the services that freshwater ecosystems can provide. Increasingly complex ‘cocktails’ of multiple stresses such as nutrient pollution, water abstraction and flooding affect Europe’s freshwater ecosystems. Such multiple stressors can interact in an ecosystem to potentially intensify or weaken their individual, additive effects, posing new challenges for environmental management. In collaboration with a number of other European Union projects, MARS is undertaking experimental and modelling analyses to better understand the effects of multiple stressors on freshwaters, particularly in terms of the ecosystem services that they provide.
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The cascade model: quantifying the capacity, flow and benefits of ecosystem services

Building on the expertise of project partners and insights from wider scientific and economic research, the MARS cookbook uses a cascade model methodology (Figure 1) that links the structure and function of an ecosystem to its service provision. This methodology includes the capacity of an ecosystem to provide a service (assessed using biophysical data), the actual flow of the services used by humans (assessed using socio-economic data), and finally the benefits that ecosystem services provide.

By assessing both the capacity of an ecosystem to provide services, and the actual use of these services, the MARS cookbook methodology allows assessments on the sustainability of ecosystem use to be made. The unsustainable use of ecosystem services may become an additional stressor the ecosystem’s health and status.

The MARS cookbook: four steps

Screen shot 2015-08-10 at 11.08.57The MARS cookbook methodology is split into four steps. The first is scoping, the process by which the aquatic ecosystem and ecosystem services of interest are selected and mapped, and the spatial and temporal scale of analysis are defined. The second step is to develop the assessment framework, through which multiple stressors and ecosystem services are linked in a stressor-ecological status-ecosystem service series. A key step here is to check whether the ecological indicators used (e.g. biodiversity, ecological status) capture the effects of the stressors, and can be linked to the ecosystem services of interest.

The third step is assessment, where biophysical indicators are organised according to the ecosystem’s capacity to deliver a service, its actual use, and the resulting human benefits provided. Indicators are organised in three categories: capacity (e.g. biomass of commercial fish species); flow (e.g. fish catch); and sustainability (e.g. % of catch within sustainable limits). Their ability to indicate ecosystem stress and / or service provision is quantified through the computer modelling of existing ecological data.

The fourth step is valuation, to identify the benefits provided by ecosystem services and aggregate them at three scales: water body, catchment and European continent. The valuations are undertaken at appropriate scales to support decision making in Integrated River Basin Management Plans and the Water Framework Directive. In the valuation process, the ecosystem service, benefit and value are separated, because a service (e.g. water purification) can provide numerous societal benefits depending on the location (e.g. drinking water; swimming areas). The economic value of the ecosystem services provided can then be valued through revealed and stated preference methodologies, and cost-based and benefit transfer approaches.

Case study: applying the MARS cookbook to Welsh river catchments

To give an example of the methodology in action, we can apply it to water purification ecosystem services provided by rivers in Wales studied by MARS led by Steve Ormerod and Isabelle Durance at Cardiff University. The first analysis step defines the geographical area, the ecosystem service and the scale of analysis (amount of purification in the catchment per year). The second framework step links the pressures faced by the catchment (e.g nutrient pollution) to the ecosystem status and service provision.

The third biophysical assessment step analyses the ecological structure and processes (e.g. an analysis of the nutrient cycle) and selects ecosystem service indicators (e.g. nutrient retention levels). In step four, the economic benefits of the service are identified (e.g. free, clean water), and appropriately valued (e.g. unit cost of purification by alternative process). This value is then aggregated to the scale of interest (e.g. the catchment) to give an overall economic value of the water purification service provided by the ecosystem.

You can read and download all the MARS factsheets on the project website here.

Introducing the MARS factsheets

August 7, 2015

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The MARS project has announced the publication of a set of factsheets designed to give brief, accessible introductions to some of the project’s key research areas and topics.  Much like this blog, the factsheets are intended to help make the project’s research and findings available to interested people and organisations.

The factsheets cover a range of topics, and can be accessed through the links below.

Factsheet 1: Multiple stresses and freshwater ecosystem service provision: the MARS ‘cookbook’ methodology

The MARS project assesses the impacts of multiple stressors on the provision of ecosystem services from freshwater ecosystems, under different climatic and land-use scenarios. The European Union FP7 funded project has developed an innovative new assessment methodology – termed a ‘cookbook’ – to allow scientists, environmental managers and policy makers to quantify the relationships between multiple stresses and ecosystem service provision and value. The cookbook provides an invaluable tool to support the implementation of the Water Framework Directive in Europe.

Download / Open PDF

Factsheet 2: Freshwater Information Platform – http://www.freshwaterplatform.eu

Over recent years, many European Union funded research projects have investigated freshwaters – ranging from biodiversity related projects to others focusing on pressures and their effects on European inland waters, including appropriate rehabilitation strategies. However, the data generated by these projects is often difficult for water managers, policy makers, scientific communities and the general public to access and use. In order to make this detailed and wide-ranging knowledge of freshwater ecosystems accessible to all, the Freshwater Information Platform was launched: an interactive website integrating results and original data stemming from finished, on-going, and future freshwater research projects.

Download / Open PDF

Factsheet 3: MARS scenarios and storylines

The multiple combinations of drivers and pressures for a given aquatic system for the current situation are shaped by its historical and present climatic, managerial and socio-economic conditions. The future combinations of drivers and pressures depend on the future climatic and socio-economic scenarios considered plausible for this system. Within MARS, scenarios and storylines are used to project the impacts of multiple stressors on aquatic ecosystems. They deliver a qualitative framework and, where possible, quantitative data for modellers to run simulations.

Download / Open PDF

Factsheet 4: Multiple stresses on Europe’s freshwaters: emerging challenges for science, policy and management

The interactions and impacts of multiple stressors on aquatic ecosystems is one of the key challenges for freshwater science, policy and conservation. Whilst there are many success stories of pollution being reduced on rivers and lakes across the continent, Europe’s freshwaters are still subject to multiple stresses, many of which are complex and poorly understood. In order to safeguard the health and diversity of Europe’s freshwaters, and the ecosystem services that they provide to humans, we need to better understand and manage the challenge of multiple stressors.

Download / Open PDF

We will explore some of the topics covered by the factsheets in coming weeks.  Please feel free to email us on info@freshwaterblog.eu if you have any questions, comments or any problems accessing the factsheets.

The DESSIN Ecosystem Service Evaluation Framework

July 27, 2015

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DESSIN is a European Union project (featured on the blog last year) which aims to specifically address water scarcity and water quality issues in urban areas, partnering scientists with water management organisations and technology companies to design new and innovative solutions for water management.

DESSIN has two broad aims: first to explore new technology and management approaches to address some of the world’s most pressing water issues; and second to use the ecosystem services concept to provide evidence of the benefit of new approaches in economic, social and environmental terms, in order to encourage their widespread adoption.  DESSIN’s work is carried out at five urban study areas across Europe.

DESSIN has recently released details of their new Ecosystem Service Evaluation Framework designed to show how innovative technologies can help support and promote the services provided to humans by freshwater ecosystems.

The DESSIN Framework uses the Common International Classification of Ecosystem Services developed by the European Union to standardise assessments.  It feeds the resulting classifications into the DPSIR adaptive management framework.

The DPSIR framework (Driving forces, Pressures, States, Impacts, Responses) has been adopted by the European Environment Agency to help understand society-environment interactions, and to assess related issues of governance and sustainability.

dessin frameworkAs this diagram shows, innovative technologies (Responses) are trialled in the framework to assess their impacts on ecosystem Drivers (human alterations to the environment), Pressures (the effects of human activity) and States (the conditions of the ecosystem under study).

As a result, the changes to ecosystem service provision (Impact I) can be estimated, and valued (Impact II).  This estimated change in ecosystem service availability and value, and the resulting effects on human well-being, can then feedback into policy and decision making, as further Responses.emscher case study

The above diagram shows a case study example of the DESSIN Framework applied to the River Emscher in Northern Germany.  Responding to decades of urban alteration and pollution of the river, the DESSIN team are trialling three innovative approaches in the catchment: sewer networks, waste-water free streams and ecological restoration.

Each response aims to address the pressures from different drivers which result in changes to the ecosystem’s state, with the intention of promoting ecosystem services such as water purification, flood protection and biodiversity conservation (Impact I).  The economic value of such services is calculated on the basis of factors such as avoided costs for technological water treatment and ecological restoration, compensated instead by the functioning of the ecosystem (Impact II).

You can keep up to date with the progress of the DESSIN project on their website.

Reflecting on the Symposium for European Freshwater Sciences in Geneva

July 20, 2015
Geneva and Lake Geneva.  Image: Wikimedia | Viktar Palstsiuk

Geneva and Lake Geneva. Image: Wikimedia | Viktar Palstsiuk

Every two years, the European Federation for Freshwater Sciences organises a symposium to bring together more than 500 people including aquatic researchers, water managers and policy makers from across Europe and the world.

Earlier this month, the 9th Symposium for European Freshwater Sciences was held in Geneva, Switzerland on the banks of Lake Geneva.  The symposium provided a platform for researchers to present and discuss key issues and new research on freshwater science and management.

This year, the theme of the symposium was ‘Water for a thirsty planet in the 21st century‘, which reflects a growing awareness about the impacts of multiple stressors on freshwater ecosystems in an increasingly developed and pressured world.  As such, the symposium was attended by a number of scientists from the MARS project, many of whom presented their work.

We spoke to two MARS scientists, Sebastian Birk and Stephen Thackeray, to get their reflections and responses to this intensive, but obviously inspiring, week of presentations and discussions in Geneva.  The Centre for Hydrology and Ecology also compiled a Storify timeline of tweets from the symposium using the #SEFS9 hashtag, through which you can follow the week’s workshops and talks.

Sebastian Birk, University of Duisburg-Essen, Germany (website)

A key strength of the symposium is that you meet the people around Europe working on similar issues.  This is great for maintaining and enchanting the contacts in your research network, and for fostering common spirit for the topics that we’re all working on. There were a lot of young scientists – PhDs and postdocs – presenting their work at the symposium, and it was great to see a new generation of researchers with new ideas.

In addition to networking with other researchers, I predominantly attended to listen to talks related to the MARS topics on aquatic multiple stresses, and I particularly wanted to see what other work on the topic is going on in Europe.  Many talks addressed the effects (and even the mitigation) of multiple stressors, and this was related to satellite topics like ecosystem services.

One fascinating body of research was presented by a working group on multiple stressors from the University of Otago in New Zealand.  Their work has been going on for more than a decade, and it was inspiring to see how far they have already got in researching the impacts of multiple stressors at different spatial scales, and their research may well be useful for us in MARS.

There was a special session on aquatic multiple stressors, and the MARS project was represented and discussed in three different talks.  I gave an overview of the status of our project; our colleagues from Cardiff University talked about multiple stress modelling in the Welsh catchments; and then our Danish colleagues presented on the river channel experiments where they carry out work on the effects on multiple stress.

Multiple stressors pose new challenges for environmental management.  Instead of stressor effects being only additive, we are increasingly seeing synergistic and antagonistic interactions between stressors, which means that you cannot simply ‘add up’ the effects of individual stressors on the environment to understand their total effect.

Synergism and antagonism are key terms in multiple stressor discussions.  Synergism means that the interaction of multiple stressors produces an effect stronger than just adding up the single stressor effects.  On the other hand, antagonism produces an effect that is weaker than the additive sum of individual stressors.  Both of these interactions are challenging our predictive capacity for understanding the effects of anthropogenic stress which is so relevant for successful water body management.

Multiple stresses are increasingly being seen as an important issue by policy makers and environmental managers, and we have a huge opportunity with the MARS project to contribute valuable work to understanding and managing their effects.  It was great to present this work to a community of like-minded researchers at the symposium.

Stephen Thackeray, Centre for Hydrology and Ecology, UK (website)

Along with four colleagues I recently joined hundreds of researchers from around the world at the Symposium for European Freshwater Sciences (SEFS9) in Geneva, as a representative of the UK Centre for Ecology & Hydrology (CEH). As always, we found SEFS to be an interesting and fun meeting, with many opportunities to make new contacts, catch up with colleagues, and learn something new. I presented on the subject of seasonality within lake ecosystems, and future directions for freshwater phenology, using material from my recently completed shifting seasons project, and from the current GloboLakes project

Overall, SEFS9 was an outlet for a great diversity of freshwater science but, for me, some of the strongest emerging themes were the ecology of urban freshwaters, methane cycling within lakes, the use of environmental DNA (eDNA) as a biodiversity monitoring tool and the assessment of impacts of multiple environmental stressors. It is this last topic that is most relevant to work being conducted within the MARS project.

However, one of my other lasting impressions from the meeting was that there was a thriving young researcher community (and I do mean community) present, all of whom are already making excellent contributions to their fields. We were also privileged to see a series of excellent plenaries, demonstrating how theory, experimentation and observation can be blended in order to provide new insights. For me, the talks given by Jef Huisman, Elena Litchman and Núria Bonada were all exceptional in this respect.

Based upon the SEFS9 experience, I am also left with the definite impression that scientific communication has itself evolved. There was a whole other dialogue on the presentations occurring throughout the meeting via Twitter, and blog posts such as this one only add to the expanding reach of the research community.

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