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Top 18 posts of 2018

January 3, 2019
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Micro-meander formed on a cycle path following a storm. Many of this year’s top posts have addressed increasingly complex human-nature entanglements in aquatic ecosystems. Image: Evelyn Berg | Flickr Creative Commons

As we tiptoe into 2019, we’ve looked back over 2018 to collect 18 of our most popular posts on freshwater science, policy and conservation.

It’s been a great year for the Freshwater Blog, with a record numbers of visitors. Thanks, as always, for reading. You can keep up to date with our posts, and add your voice to the debate, through our Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn pages.

Happy 2019!

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‘Modest’ fine sediment and phosphate pollution in English rivers causes mortality of up to 80% of mayfly eggs (January)

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Blue-winged Olive. Image: Francisco Welter-Schultes | Wikipedia Creative Commons

Increased levels of fine suspended sediment and phosphate in aquatic ecosystems can have significant negative impacts on the survival of mayfly eggs, according to a new study. Relatively modest levels of pollution can kill up to 80% of eggs, with potentially devastating effects on mayfly populations and wider aquatic food webs.

Writing in the journal Environmental Pollution, a team of researchers led by Nick Everall of the Aquascience Consultancy carried out experiments on the blue-winged olive, a species of mayfly found across Europe, whose populations have fallen in recent decades. (read more)

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Messages from MARS (February)

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The final MARS project conference in Brussels. Image: Jörg Strackbein

The EU FP7 MARS Project“Managing multiple stress for multiple benefits in aquatic ecosystems”celebrated its final conference in Brussels last month.

The event concluded four years of in-depth research by MARS scientists on multi-stressor effects on European surface and ground waters, highlighting the implications for Water Framework Directive (WFD) related management. Among the array of fascinating results generated by the MARS project, four key messages were reported at the conference. (read more)

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Managing multiple pressures from recreational activities on freshwater ecosystems (March)

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Campsite beside a Swedish lake. Fuel and waste disposal can cause lake pollution. Image: Jörgen Brouwer

Rivers and lakes are popular places for people to relax, play and exercise, and recreational activities like boating, bathing and angling are all well-documented to have positive effects on human well-being. But can the enjoyment of such freshwater ‘ecosystem services’ cause pressures on aquatic ecosystems? And how best can recreational activities be managed to minimise the harm they might cause?

A review of available data on the topic recently published in the Environmental Reviews journal shows that environmental quality is closely liked to recreational activities in many freshwater ecosystems. The ecological health and diversity of a river or lake can be an attractive draw for visitors, potentially causing tensions between tourist ‘hotspots’ and areas of conservation importance. This means there is a pressing need for effective management strategies to minimise ecological damage from visitor use in many places. (read more)

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Visualising multiple stressors on European river catchments: the MARS Scenario Analysis Tool (March)

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Over the last four years, the MARS project has been investigating the interactions and impacts of multiple stressors on Europe’s aquatic ecosystems. This is a topic at the cutting edge of freshwater science research, and MARS scientists have sought to understand how the multiple pressures humans place on the environment – nutrient pollution, habitat alteration, climate change, water abstraction, and many more – act together to cause stress on the continent’s rivers and lakes. As a result, this work is important for environmental managers and policy makers seeking effective options to mitigate multiple stresses, and conserve or restore Europe’s freshwaters.

MARS has recently launched its Scenario Analysis Tool – an online, open-source mapping tool, which allows users to visualise and analyse multiple stressor conditions in European rivers. The tool can generate maps showing where different stressors occur, how many stressors co-occur, and their potential impacts on ecosystem status, at both the river basin and the continental scale. (read more)

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The Water Framework Directive at 18: Future Directions and Emerging Challenges (May)

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Image: Jim Liestman | Flickr Creative Commons

The Water Framework Directive (WFD) is the foundation of European Union water policy. Adopted in 2000, the WFD provides a policy framework for European member states to monitor, assess and manage their aquatic ecosystems. However, despite widespread improvements in the monitoring, conservation and restoration of rivers and lakes across Europe, the WFD has not yet achieved its primary objective: the good ecological status of all European freshwaters.

A formal EU ‘fitness check’ evaluation of the WFD is due in Autumn 2019. Ahead of this assessment, MARS researchers have published a policy brief providing recommendations for the future implementation and evaluation of European water policy. They identify four key areas to be addressed. (read more)

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Trust your bank manager: riparian zones to protect and restore rivers (May)

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Restored river section five years after restoration with riparian vegetation consisting of grasses, shrubs and trees. This riparian vegetation can effectively fulfill buffer functions and support riverine biodiversity. Photo: Christian K. Feld

Safeguarding the banks and margins of streams and rivers has a key role to play in ensuring river health. This is the major conclusion from a new international study recently published in Water Research.

The authors of the new study synthesised the findings of more than 100 river management studies, many of which addressed the effects of riparian restoration on riverine habitat and biological conditions. It is widely acknowledged that riparian plants provide food for aquatic organisms, and can mitigate water temperature increases under climate change. Riparian zones can also provide valuable ‘buffer zones’ for run-off from farming and urban areas, preventing pollutants from reaching the river channel. Yet such riparian effects are not to be taken for granted. (read more)

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Reporting from MARS: multiple stressor science and management in European aquatic ecosystems (June)

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MARS has investigated how multiple stressors affect European rivers, lakes and groundwaters over the last four years. Image: Symbolique 2006

After four years of research on multiple stressor interactions and impacts in European aquatic ecosystems, the EU FP7 MARS project has published its final project report (pdf). 

The final MARS report gives a breakdown of project activities and results over the last four years. Significantly, it shows that the project has resulted in over 230 scientific publications, numerous policy briefs and factsheets, and a suite of online tools for water management. (read more)

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New open-access book on key debates, approaches and directions in river management (July)

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Clear waters and altered river bank at the Čunovo Dam on the Danube River in Slovakia. Image: Miroslav Petrasko | Flickr Creative Commons

Rivers across the world support rich biodiversity, yet are some of the most threatened global ecosystems, as a result of multiple pressures including pollution, water abstraction, habitat alteration and dam construction. As a result, river conservation and restoration are key topics for scientists, environmental managers and policy makers globally.

A new book Riverine Ecosystem Management: Science for Governing Towards a Sustainable Future provides a cutting-edge overview of contemporary approaches to river management. Available as a free PDF and ePub download, the book is edited by Stefan Schmutz and Jan Sendzimir from BOKU. (read more)

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Less than half of European surface waters reach good ecological status, according to new EEA report (July)

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The Neckar River at Ladenburg, Germany, which has significant hydromorphological alterations. Image: EEA

Less than half of Europe’s rivers, lakes and estuarine waters reach good ecological status, according to a recently published European Environment Agency report. Only 40% of European surface water bodies were found to be in a good ecological state, despite significant policy and management initiatives in recent decades to conserve and restore them. Roughly the same percentage (38%) of surface waters reach good chemical status, whilst nearly half (46%) do not.

The EEA report is based on data from EU-member states monitoring their surface and ground waters as part of the Water Framework Directive River Basin Management Plans (RBMPs). The report is the first overall assessment over European waters since 2012, and covers the second round of RBMP reporting. It contains data on over 130,000 water bodies across Europe, which have been monitored over the last six years. (read more)

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Postcards from Heatwave Europe (August)

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Low water levels on Lake Nisser in Norway. Image: Anne Lyche Solheim

Across the world, this summer’s weather has been characterised by extremes. The USA has experienced severe droughts and wildfires in the West, and flash flooding in the East, whilst an ‘unprecedented’ heatwave in Japan has been attributed as the cause of over 65 deaths. Most of Europe has experienced an extended period of high temperatures and minimal rainfall, causing wildfires to spread in both the Arctic Circle and Greece.

The high air and water temperatures, low rainfall and flashy storms and flooding experienced across Europe are all key pressures on the health and status of freshwater ecosystems. To gain a picture of how this summer’s weather is affecting European waters, we put a call out to our network of aquatic scientists across the continent, asking them to send in brief ‘postcards’ of their observations. (read more)

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More Postcards from Heatwave Europe (August)

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Dry lake bed at Thirlmere in the English Lake District. Image: Stephan Brzozowski

We recently published the first in a series of ‘Postcards from Heatwave Europe‘, in which aquatic scientists from across Europe offered their observations on how this summer’s extreme weather was affecting rivers and lakes in their local landscapes.

Today we have two more contributions to the series, from Sweden and the English Lake District. In Britain, at least, the weeks of hot, dry weather experienced this summer have recently been replaced by more unsettled conditions and regular thunderstorms. However, water levels in many lakes and rivers have yet to return to typical summer levels as a result of the prolonged dry spell. (read more)

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The Alliance for Freshwater Life is launched (August)

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The Vjosa river and floodplain in Albania: one of the last intact large river systems in Europe. Image: Lukas Thuile Bistarelli

A new global network aiming to halt and reverse the ongoing freshwater biodiversity loss crisis launched last Sunday at the World Water Week conference in Stockholm. The Alliance for Freshwater Life is an interdisciplinary network of scientists, conservation professionals, educators, policy experts, creative practitioners, and citizens working to improve the conservation and sustainable use of freshwater ecosystems and biodiversity. (read more)

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Lake type affects how climate change causes algal blooms in European lakes (September)

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Algal bloom on Loch Leven in Scotland. Image: Laurence Carvalho

Blooms of blue-green algae – otherwise known as cyanobacteria – are likely to increase in European lakes as a result of climate change, according to a new study. However, this trend is likely to vary depending on the individual characteristics of different lakes.

Writing in Global Change Biology, Dr. Jessica Richardson from the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology and colleagues used data from lakes across Europe to explore the sensitivities of different types of lakes to multiple environmental stressors associated with climate change and human activities. (read more)

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Microplastics found in fifty percent of insects in South Wales rivers (October)

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The River Usk in South Wales. Half of the aquatic insects sampled in the river were found to contain microplastics. Image: Photo Monkey | Flickr Creative Commons

A new open-access study by researchers from Cardiff University found that half of aquatic insects (or macroinvertebrates) sampled from three rivers in South Wales had ingested microplastics.

A research team led by Fred Windsor, a PhD researcher at Cardiff University School of Biosciences, sampled three different kinds of mayfly and caddis larvae at five sites on the Usk, Taff and Wye catchments. Each sampling site was located close to a waste water treatment plant, allowing macroinvertebrates to be sampled for microplastic ingestion both above and below water outflows from each plant. (read more)

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Over a third of natural wetlands lost globally since 1970 (October)

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Mubarak Al-Kabeer Reserve – a Ramsar site in Kuwait where shallow salt marshes and small lagoons provide a key habitat for migratory birds. Image: Abdualreda Alramzi | Ramsar

Over a third of natural wetlands have been lost globally since 1970, a rate of decline which is three times that of global forest loss over the same period. Wetlands are important habitats for wildlife, and provide a number of important ecosystem services to humans, including food security, flood protection and climate change mitigation. However, wetlands are being lost due to human development across the world, putting a quarter of the plants and animals which depend on them at risk of extinction.

These are some of the key findings of the new Global Wetland Outlook report, published by the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands, an international treaty on wetland conservation. The report – the first global wetland inventory of its kind – has been published to coincide with the 13th Ramsar Convention of Parties, held this week in the United Arab Emirates. (read more)

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Global freshwater species populations decline by 83% since 1970 (November)

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Image: WWF

Global freshwater species populations have dropped by 83% since 1970, according to a new report published by the World Wildlife Fund. The Living Planet Report 2018 assessed the populations of 880 representative freshwater species across the world between 1970-2014 to calculate the Living Planet Index.

The WWF report states that freshwaters – including lakes, rivers and wetlands – are the most threatened of all global habitats. Freshwater ecosystems provide habitat for over 100,000 known species of fishes, molluscs, reptiles, insects, plants and mammals, despite covering less than 1% of the Earth’s surface. (read more)

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Managing multiple stressors in aquatic ecosystems: recommendations from the MARS Project (November)

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The MARS project has published a document titled “MARS Recommendations on how to best assess and mitigate impacts of multiple stressors in aquatic ecosystems”. This open-access pdf outlines a framework for how multiple stress conditions might be best mitigated in River Basin Management through the EU Water Framework Directive. (read more)

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Emerging threats and persistent conservation challenges for freshwater biodiversity (December)

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A stream illuminated by street lights. Light pollution is one of the emerging threats to freshwater ecosystems identified by the review. Image: Eric Fleming | Flickr Creative Commons

A new review of emerging threats to freshwater biodiversity, and the conservation challenges they pose, has been published. The review, led by Andrea Reid from the Fish Ecology and Conservation Physiology Laboratory at Carleton University, Canada, argues that the Anthropocene has brought numerous new and varied threats that disproportionately impact freshwater systems.

Writing in Biological Reviews, the authors state that new and effective conservation strategies are needed to address emerging threats, particularly because whilst freshwaters cover only 2.3% of the Earth’s surface, they support at least 9.5% of the Earth’s described animal species. (read more)

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Thanks for reading, and a very happy 2019 to you! If you still have an appetite for more freshwater blogs, then you can also read our previous annual post round-ups for 2017 and 2016.

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