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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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