Meet the team: Christian Feld
In our latest addition to our meet the team series, Christian Feld took some time out from his usual work assessing the health of rivers a to tell us about his work and inspirations. Christian is an aquatic biologist at the University of Duisberg-Essen and has expertise in river assessment, multivariate statistics, hydromorphology, and the analysis of biodiversity patterns.
1. What is the focus of your work for BioFresh, and why?
In BioFresh, me and my workpackage partners are interested in the effects of human ecosystem alteration on aquatic biodiversity. The team consists of experts in the realm of river, lake, wetland and groundwater biodiversity, which is why we are able to compare the response patterns of biodiversity among these different systems. With response patterns, we refer to changes in species richness or the dominance structure of species within a community. For example, plant or insect species richness are supposed to decline under human impacts from agricultural or urban land uses. That is why we use a tremendous amount of data from different freshwater ecosystems to seek for the relationship between species richness on the one hand and intensive human land uses on the other. But it is not only land use we are interested in. Human alteration (often referred to as “stress“) is manifold and may include pollution, habitat degradation or even temperature effects due to climate change.
2. How is your work relevant to policy makers, conservationists and/or the general public?
As the aim is to identify response patterns of biodiversity to human impact on rivers, lakes, wetlands and groundwaters, the outcome of our studies can inform policy makers and conservationists about the threat that these “stressors“ impose on aquatic diversity. We know that biodiversity continues to decline rapidly, worldwide and particularly in freshwater ecosystems. Thus, we need to urge, but also help decision makers halt the loss of diversity. If we can inform them about the main threats of biodiversity, they shall be able to initiate measures that can mitigate biodiversity loss. Our results show, for instance, that intensive agriculture is linked to the loss of river fish and insect diversity. Consequently, we suggest that such intensive forms of land use be buffered by riparian vegetation – trees, shrubs and grassland. Such buffers reduce the adverse effects of agriculture on the river ecosystem and can help improve the riverine organisms diversity.
3. Why is the BioFresh project important?
BioFresh is an excellent initiative that brings together the key experts in European freshwater science and beyond. But more importantly, our team involves the applied sector, that is organisations such as the International Union on the Conservation of Nature (IUCN). I think that our project is a strong example of how scientists and practitioners can collaborate from the very beginning. Another strength of BioFresh is the data portal, which offers a great opportunity for scientists around the world to access and analyse global biodiversity data. This data will also be visualised through the BioFresh Atlas, so that our website has potential to become a future hot spot of freshwater biodiversity information.
4. What inspired you to become a scientist?
This is a good question. And a difficult one. I’ve never thought about before., but probably it was my mentor during the diploma phase at the end of my studies at the University of Marburg in Germany. He is retired now, but used to be one of the “old-school“ limnologists. He was a brilliant teacher and showed me how we can make use of the tiny organisms in streams and rivers to let them tell us about their living conditions. In other words, he taught me river assessment using biological indicators. This was linked to my Diploma thesis and later on became the focus of my dissertation at the University of Duisburg-Essen, Germany. I’m still working on bioassessment systems and I love it.
5. What are your plans and ambitions for your future scientific work?
I think my most ambitious plan is to fully understand my research. I’m not kidding. During the many projects and studies I was involved in during the past thirteen years, I generated data, analysed data and published the outcome. But with each publication, there were new questions raised. With each analysis, new ideas arose. This, of course, is important as it is what drives science forward. But every once in a while, we scientists need to step back and think for a while. Think about how the bits and pieces may come together. Think about how our results could help practitioners doing their job more effectively. This is my ambition for the future.