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Reporting on the Barcelona conference: Identifying the top questions for freshwater biodiversity

March 3, 2011

Montserrat, location of the BioFresh conference (image: Wikipedia)

A key objective of the BioFresh project is to improve the capacity to protect and manage freshwater biodiversity by raising awareness of the importance of freshwater biodiversity and its role in providing ecosystem services; and predicting the future responses of freshwater biodiversity to multiple stressors in the face of global change. In this way, the project aims to address the under-representation of freshwater ecosystem issues within policy, public and media circles.

As part of the drive to address this shortfall, a session was convened at the BioFresh conference last week in Montserrat, Spain for project partners to get together, collaborate and debate the identification of the key questions, issues and challenges for freshwater biodiversity science, policy and conservation.

The results of an online questionnaire calling for submission of key questions were debated in small, cross-disciplinary groups of partners, structured under 10 themes:

1) Biogeography of freshwater ecosystems: diversity, scale and taxonomy
2) Impacts of climate change
3) Ecoinformatics and biodiversity modelling
4) Ecosystem function and thresholds
5) Ecosystem services
6) Freshwater policy and governance
7) Long-term ecology and ecological histories
8 ) Novel ecosystems and ecosystem stressors/pressures
9) Systematic conservation planning and prioritisation
10) Public perceptions, values and ethics

Each small group produced a list of 3-5 questions that had been discussed, refined and agreed upon. These questions were then further discussed and refined by all participants in a rotating ‘carousel’ session where each group discussed the outputs of others.

The session had two key objectives. First, it prompted collaborative discussion and debate amongst BioFresh partners working in different disciplines – sparking new ideas and potential synergies. Such cross-disciplinary collaboration is often seen as crucial in formulating effective conservation decision-making.

Second, the session provided the basis for a journal article outlining the agreed upon selection of key issues for freshwater biodiversity that need to be addressed by science and policy. Such future-scanning papers (e.g. Sutherland et al 2011, 2009) provide an excellent resource for policy makers, academics and students, clearly outlining priorities for science and policy. As a result, the project has the potential to bring freshwater issues up the research and policy agendas.

We’ll bring more details of this exercise in the coming months. For now, here’s a selection of suggested questions – we welcome your suggestions for further ‘top questions for freshwater biodiversity’.

  • How will freshwater ecosystems respond to climate change?
  • How does freshwater ecosystem functioning change with loss or gain of species from a natural ecosystem?
  • To what extent can historical ecological conditions be useful in setting benchmarks in judging the speed, magnitude and direction of ecosystem change?
  • How do novel freshwater ecosystems form, and what is their ecosystem and evolutionary consequences?
  • How can freshwater science be raised up the policy table?
  • How do we give a compelling answer to “why should I care about freshwater biodiversity”?
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