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Freshwater Information Platform


Workpackage 03

Evaluation and Gap Analyses

Responsible Institutes: WorldFish Center (formerly known as ICLARM)

The overall objective of WP3 is to assess and improve the fitness for use of the available data mass by analysing and recording the data and information requirements and needs by WP4-8, and by addressing the gaps identified. This will be achieved by focused searches for additional, potential partner and data custodians holding data critical to WP4-8, by encoding published data to electronic format, and, if relevant, by proposing and collaborating in the initiation of new, independently funded projects to collect missing data.

Workpackage 08

Capacity Building, Awareness Raising, Dissemination and Science-Policy Dialogue

Responsible Institution: Oxford University (UOXF.AC)

Key questions and issues:

  • What are the main issues of concern of society, and how can these concerns be improved by the development of a well thought out communication and development strategy?
  • How can stakeholders and civil society target groups be identified and integrated into the scientific process more explicitly, as a means of encouraging uptake of new information?
  • How can the outputs of science be made more accessible, practical and operationally valuable for society as a whole?
  • How can the links between scientific research, the media and decision makers in general be strengthened in such a way to promote better uptake of scientific results?
  • How can society be convinced that protection of freshwater biodiversity is a crucial issue?

Capacity building, outreach and communication in the BioFresh project will make an important contribution to the availability of information on freshwater biodiversity worldwide. The creation of a dissemination and communication strategy to facilitate the transmission of this information is a key objective of BioFresh. The formulation of this strategy will take place in the first 6 months of the project (including a 3-month preparatory phase). Likely impacts of global change on freshwater ecosystems will be highlighted to help raise the profile of the issue with the general public and decision makers. Through this process, better understanding of freshwater biodiversity and its role within ecosystems will be promoted in a more accessible and user-friendly manner, encouraging uptake of the results for policy making.

Making decisions and creating policy instruments relating to environmental and natural resources is a complex challenge. While the scientific community usually operates at a detailed and local scale, managers and policy makers require a more holistic ecosystems approach, without the detail required by scientists. The gap between the two approaches is not solely due to knowledge differentials, but also because of a different way of thinking. The interdisciplinary nature of these problems demand fresh approaches to ensure that the right type of information is received by the policy maker in a form that can easily be incorporated into policy. In WP8 we will address these needs in a variety of ways.

Within the broader scientific community, the results of this project will clarify some key uncertainties in relation to the links between freshwater biodiversity and ecosystem services (as suggested in the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment 2005), and better organization of the relevant available data will prove invaluable to both present and future freshwater researchers. Furthermore, through better organization of available freshwater data, it is more likely that decisions on water allocations will be more sensitive to the needs of freshwater ecosystems.

The urgency of effective responses to the challenges of freshwater biodiversity loss requires that the dialogue linking science to societal processes becomes firmly established and effective. This should be based on information flows from science to relevant levels of governance - locally, regionally, nationally and internationally. One of the first steps within BioFresh will be to develop a dissemination and communication strategy designed to optimise the impact of scientific knowledge on policy formulation.

This linkage of science to society will be achieved through the use of broadcast and non-broadcast methods. While broadcast methods will still be vital to deliver complex information to the science community and others with an interest in this field, there is a great need for novel (non-broadcast) approaches to capture the imagination of a much wider range of potential users of the information. The value of data only lies through its use, and so it will be essential to promote the use of the collated BioFresh datasets by a wide range of different user groups. The information disseminated by WP8 will be drawn from all other Work Packages in the project.

In the light of the continued rapid depletion of freshwater systems, there is a clear need to clarify and demonstrate “How can citizens profit from freshwater biodiversity protection and scientific projects like BioFresh?” and “Why is better information on the loss of freshwater biodiversity so important?”. To answer these questions, clear, understandable but not over-simplified information about the causes and impacts of freshwater biodiversity loss and related ecosystem services must be made available in a variety of formats, to society in general, and key stakeholders in particular (e.g. nature conservation and water managers, basin commissions etc.).

Furthermore, better understanding of public perceptions of freshwater biodiversity, and the importance of changes in it, will enable more effective information delivery related to the integrity of freshwater systems. The use of rapid appraisal approaches in water management is important if sophisticated modelling is not available. This type of approach provides support for decision makers, and the development of such a tool designed for freshwater biodiversity assessment will enable more effective decisions about water allocations to be made.

The translation of main scientific concepts from a project like BioFresh into materials that can be understood (and acted upon) by both the public, and policy makers, is a key part of the scientific process. The role of the media in this process is crucial, and thus it is important to deliver these scientific outputs in ways which are attractive to agents within that domain. Within the freshwater biodiversity science community, it is widely accepted that the urgency of biodiversity loss from freshwater systems should be conveyed to the largest possible audience. A key part of this audience will be those policy makers whose areas of influence impact on natural resources in general and freshwater systems in particular.

By offering different and often contrasting perspectives of involved stakeholders, policy makers have a major role to play in this, and so will be targeted specifically in the planned communication and dissemination strategy and other outreach activities. In addition, it is anticipated that the BioFresh project will galvanise the global biodiversity science community to pool their knowledge in such a way as to fill in some of the current gaps in our knowledge. This will also provide the opportunity for scientists from developing countries to be involved in and contribute to, international initiatives. This will make a contribution to the Millennium Development Goal number 8 which relates to the building of global partnerships for development (to assist developing countries in growing and participating effectively).

Workpackage 06

Response of Biodiversity to Multiple Stressors

Responsible Institution: Universität Duisburg-Essen (UDE)

Key research questions:

  • How do freshwater organism groups (from phytoplankton to vertebrates) differ in their response signatures to current and future stressors types? Are there organism group-specific drivers of biodiversity change?
  • How will freshwater biodiversity patterns on different scales (global, European and local scale) be impacted by the interaction of multiple stressors?
  • How will freshwater biodiversity patterns change in future as a result of multiple stressor impact, including eutrophication, habitat degradation, species invasions and climate change?

The response of freshwater organism groups to selected stressors has been described in numerous studies. Although the type and severity of human-generated pressures affecting the integrity of lakes, rivers, wetlands and groundwaters varies across the world, the major drivers can be summarised as multiple use (such as fisheries, navigation, water extraction, nutrient enrichment and organic pollution, acidification and habitat degradation).

Among these factors, habitat degradation at catchment scale that includes the alteration of hydrological regimes is the single most important cause of freshwater species extinction, contributing to the endangerment of 85% of the threatened species in the USA. However, there are only a very limited number of studies comparing the response of different organism groups to multiple-stress situations. Climate Change (see WP5) is adding supplementary stressor types (temperature increase, hydrological changes) and interacts in complex ways with other stressors.


Workpackage 07

Informing Policy for Conservation Planning

Responsible Institution: The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN)

Key research questions:

  • What is the current global and European conservation state of freshwater biodiversity?
  • Where are the most important sites of freshwater biodiversity and how well do they match the current locations of protected areas?
  • How well do current protected areas protect freshwater species biodiversity and how might they be modified to better do so?
  • Will current Protected Areas be fit for purpose under predicted future distributions of freshwater biodiversity?

Conservation planning has traditionally been based on the management of networks of protected areas and many of the world’s governments have committed to expanding these networks to ensure the conservation of biodiversity. A number of questions arise relating to the effectiveness of such an approach for freshwater ecosystems.

Firstly, policy makers are still not able to assess the efficacy of such networks for the conservation of freshwater ecosystems, as there is often no baseline on the status and distribution of freshwater biodiversity. Without such a baseline it is also not possible for policy makers and conservation practitioners to monitor progress towards international, national regional and regional national targets for reducing or halting (EU) loss of biodiversity. They are also unable to evaluate the impacts of conservation interventions and to formulate a comprehensive strategy to conserve and sustainably use freshwater biodiversity now and in the future. The information collated through the BioFresh portal will, for many parts of the world, put in place the baseline required to make such policy and management decisions.

Secondly, current protected areas networks are predominantly designed for the protection of terrestrial habitats and fail to account for the high levels of connectivity within freshwater systems with, for example, many protected areas boundaries set to follow national borders, or rivers. Failure to account for connectivity between sometimes distant parts of a river or lake catchments will in many cases mean little if any protection is afforded to freshwater biodiversity as impacts such as pollution, sedimentation or invasive species may spread rapidly across protected area boundaries.

The effectiveness of current protected areas networks for conservation of freshwater ecosystems needs to be evaluated and new protected areas, often based on catchment boundaries, will be recommended where appropriate. The selection and prioritisation of sites (catchments) to be included within such protected areas networks may be based on methods being developed for identification of Key Biodiversity Areas. The application of this approach for freshwater biodiversity will be further refined and applied through BioFresh.

Finally, research on terrestrial protected areas networks has shown that a network designed for one target taxon may effectively capture and afford protection to other, non-target taxa. Such research will help to inform policy makers and managers in their design of protected areas for freshwater biodiversity. Research to date for freshwater biota suggests that there is little correlation between the distributions of different groups, but has been severely limited by the absence of a centralised source of all relevant data.

Workpackage 05

Climate Change Impact on Freshwater Biodiversity

Responsible Institution: Leibniz-Institut für Gewässerökologie und Binnenfischerei im Forschungsverbund Berlin e. V. (FVB.IGB)

Key research questions:

  • Which ecoregions (FEOW), ecosystem types, habitats and taxonomic groups are most vulnerable to expected changes in hydrological and temperature regimes (Climate Vulnerability Index), and for which ecosystem scales are the most urgent and continuous adaptations of conservation strategies required (see WP7)?
  • Can Climate Freshwater Biodiversity Models successfully describe the current distribution of selected taxonomic groups with respect to hydrological and temperature regimes and can these models be used to predict species distribution under future climate scenarios?
  • How will cold stenothermic taxa in mountainous aquatic ecosystems respond to climate change and the immigration of taxa from lower altitudes?
  • How will the currently known functioning of freshwater ecosystems be impaired by novel species assemblages?

Climate is a primary constraint on species distribution and ecosystem function, and forecasting extinction risks, species range shifts, biome shifts, and altered disturbance regimes remains a central challenge. It is predicted that precipitation and temperature regimes will most likely be affected by future climate change, and that extreme events such as heat waves and resulting droughts and heavy precipitation associated with flooding will increase in both frequency and magnitude.

Indeed, global climate change is expected to drive particularly sharp declines in freshwaters, as resident species are less mobile and only a few taxonomic groups are capable to freely shift their distribution ranges. The impact of climate change on freshwater biodiversity is therefore of major concern for the EU Nature Directives, the Convention of Biological Diversity and the Ramsar Convention. The degree and direction of change, however, is likely to depend on latitude and altitude, as well as on ecosystem type and target organisms.

Aquatic biodiversity in mountain regions, for example, is expected to be especially vulnerable, as temperature directly influences life-cycle strategies and the distribution of biota. While many taxa may find suitable habitats at higher elevations, the most cold-adapted taxa may go extinct.

Changes in precipitation will favour some freshwater habitat types and their species-holding capacity, just as decreasing runoff and warming will negatively affect other habitats. For example, wetlands may be highly sensitive to changes in precipitation, while their particular species assemblages may be less affected because they already are adapted to fluctuating environmental conditions. Novel 21st-century climates may promote the formation of novel species assemblages with no adequate analogue in history and with unpredictable consequences.