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Meet the BioFresh team: Klement Tockner

April 16, 2012

We continue our series of articles giving a ‘behind the scenes’ look at the work carried out by BioFresh scientists this week with an interview with BioFresh project leader Klement Tockner who is the Director of the Leibniz-Institute of Freshwater Ecology & Inland Fisheries (IGB).  The IGB is an independent and interdisciplinary research centre dedicated to the creation, dissemination, and application of knowledge about freshwater ecosystems. The Institutes three cross-cutting research domains focus on freshwater biodiversity, freshwater boundaries and linkages, and on human-ecosystem interactions. 

1 What is the focus of your work for BioFresh, and why?

My key duty as coordinator of BioFresh is to lead, support, and integrate the various activities of the entire project. I would consider it as great success if BioFresh increases the awareness of the critical state of freshwater biodiversity, stimulates novel, innovative research directions, and supports the development of a new culture of data sharing.

Personally, I am working on floodplain systems, the most diverse, dynamic, and complex ecosystems globally.  With respect to biodiversity they are as diverse as rainforests and coral reefs.  A main focus of my research is to disentangle the complex linkages and feedbacks between hydrogeomorphic processes and biodiversity, and the consequences of biodiversity on ecosystem processes.

A side project that is very relevant for BioFresh is to build up a global data base on Biological Field Stations. At present, we include about 1500 stations in the data base; these stations form a global infrastructure and information network that is pivotal for long-term biodiversity research, education, and regional outreach activities.

2  How is your work relevant to policy makers, conservationists and/or the general public?

I consider my work as a fundamental basis to develop strategies for managing river corridors as coupled socio-ecological landscapes, by integrating multiple natural ecological services with constructed services for increasing the total wealth provided by these ecosystems.

Today, most ecosystems have been comprehensively “domesticated”. They have been optimized for few ecosystem services that provide major economic benefit to humans, yet concurrently causing unforeseen changes in other ecosystem attributes. Thus, it is a key challenge in science and management to determine the extent to which the negative trade-offs of domestication can be avoided by changing the way ecosystems are managed. To have accurate data, as they will be provided through BioFresh, is the fundamental basis for the sustainable conservation of biodiversity.

 3 Why is the BioFresh project important?

Most people are not aware about the disproportionately high biodiversity of freshwaters, the multiple ecosystem services that they provide, and that rivers, lakes, wetlands and ground waters are amongst the most threatened ecosystems globally.

BioFresh will provide an open data platform for scientists, policy makers and the public. We collect widely dispersed information and make it publically available. This information is expected to help setting priorities for biodiversity conservation and ecosystem management.

Unfortunately, the present discussion on the nexus between water, energy and food ignores freshwaters as ecosystems and the role of water as a medium for life.  However, we urgently need to establish synergies among the different users of water, including the ecosystem. If there is competition amongst different users, it is always the ecosystem that loses.

 4 Tell us about a memorable experience in your career

I have worked across 4 continents, gaining and understanding different perspectives and valuations of freshwaters.  For example, I worked for 8 months in Central Africa in Rwanda where I experienced completely different ecosystem types as well as a very challenging way of how to do research.  We sampled on boats made of a tree trunk, and we worked in areas where no one did river research so far. Due to the high erosion rates of fertile land the transparency of the rivers was often less than 2 cm. In Rwanda, the future of this country lies virtually in its rivers. Fertile land is constantly washed downstream because of a high demographic pressure and the overexploitation of the limited land resources.



Overall, it is the critical role of freshwaters for both humans and nature which stimulated me doing research and in trying to support the development of sustainable solutions.

 5  What inspired you to become a scientist?

It was a child dream to become an explorer, i.e. to explore the unknown spots of the world.  Fortunately, I met fascinating, interesting people at school and at university who inspired me and who supported me in following unconventional ideas rather than searching for a safe path.

 6 What are your plans and ambitions for your future scientific work?

I am still dreaming to make an expedition to the very last wild spots on earth – to go to the Congo Basin or to Sothern Sudan – or to establish a biological field station on the banks of the Rufiji River, Tanzania.

A fascinating domain for future research, in particular for BioFresh, would be to get citizens stimulated enough to provide data for the portal and information that would then be available to the wider community.  It would not only provide more data, but would involve the public in the generation of information and in the support of science.

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