The BBC reported today that Fermanagh is the happiest place in the UK according to a recent survey by the ONS. Is there a link with the exceptional freshwater biodiversity levels we found during our work in the Upper Lough Erne region, part of Co. Fermanagh? Our Lake BESS work is only a preliminary step towards answering such fundamental question: a whole new research agenda lies ahead of us to better understand the value of nature and ecosystems in what is often referred to as coupled human-environment systems.
Here is a short summary of the talk we gave yesterday, at the Aquatic biodiversity and ecosystems conference held at the University of Liverpool, where we asked the question: Does connectivity between lakes enhance biodiversity resilience to eutrophication in the Upper Lough Erne area and in The Broads? A talk based on the same research was delivered in Baltimore, USA for the 100th Annual Meeting of the Ecological Society of America – see this post.
Our data was a compilation of lake surveys in both lake districts and for two time periods: the 1980 and recent time (thanks you to all our partners who were willing to share their data, by the way!). Each lake survey comprises of:
- Extensive botanical work, recording aquatic plants from the open water and the marginal zone, and
- Collecting water samples that are later analysed in the lab for phytoplankton abundance, concentration of nutrients such as phosphorus and water chemistry in general.
Our data shows that nutrient pollution drives ecosystem functioning in both regions and during both time periods. This reminds us on the importance of good policies to protect freshwaters while maintaining thriving agriculture.
The situation with biodiversity is a bit different as it appears to be influenced both by the local conditions (lake size and shape, nutrients status) and landscape-wide connectivity. One main difference between the Upper Lough Erne lakes and the Broads is that flood connectivity in the Upper lough Erne is a major factor structuring in the aquatic plant communities there. Does this induce greater resilience? remains a pending question we are working on.
All these results are being written up into a scientific article, so please get in touch if you’d like to discuss or report them!
The 100th ESA annual meeting was a great experience! It was an opportunity to present our work, of course, but what I really enjoyed was the breadth and depth. The breadth of ecological topics represented was exceptional – speak about biodiversity!- and the depth of the talks and of the understanding within each subfield was phenomenal.
I would like to highlight three researchers and their talks. There were many other remarkable ones but these actually tie well together in what I would call a list obstacles for our societies to deal effectively with the biodiversity crisis and with ecological issues in general.
Stephen Jackson from the University of Arizona, USA, presented five major challenges for ecology. Among those, three could be labelled as governance challenges within ecological research – whether within academic institutions or in the way academics interacts with decision makers and land managers.
Two others were more directly related to our science. Stephen notably put an emphasis on the difficulties related to defining nature in a context of ever-changing conditions – and in a context of omnipresent human pressure.
This last point was further developed by Jens-Christian Svenning from Aarhus University, Denmark. It was divided into three categories: disequilibrium dynamics, novel ecosystems and trophic cascade. These three ecological phenomena remind us how much ecosystem function in a complex way. As a result of this complexity, ecosystems have futures that are extremely difficult, if not impossible, to predict.
Jens-Christian presented several compelling examples to illustrate his talk and I would refer anyone interested to his publication list.
Finally, Shannon Hagerman, from the University of British Columbia, Canada, provided a wider framework explaining the origin of these institutional and ecological challenges.
Shannon’s work focusses on the values underlying expert opinion in biodiversity science and claims that today’s novel impact created by human activities not only threatens biodiversity in a direct way (as we all understand it) but it also deeply questions the values that have hitherto guided conservation actions.
It can be postulated that this crisis of values within the field of conservation at large creates obstacles for us to deal effectively with the biodiversity crisis itself and with ecological issues in general.
This is a very simplified synthesis of these three talks, that certainly does not do them justice, and the opinions expressed are mine. Ambroise, Sheffield, UK, August 27th 2015
The BESS resilience workshop on June 18th and 19th was a great success with over twenty attendees, mostly BESS researchers but also JNCC and Welsh government representatives.
We also had two special guests, Volker Grimm and Hanna Weise from the Helmholtz Center for Environmental Research, Leipzig, Germany, who presented fascinating background information about ecosystem resilience. Volker was a pioneer in trying to understand how the notion of resilience can be applied in ecology and his 1997 seminal paper is worthwhile a read.
The first day’s discussions were focussed on defining resilience, while in the second day we explored the multiple ways that can be used to measure ecosystem resilience.
It was very enlightening to hear different researchers from different BESS projects explain how ecosystem resilience was relevant to their work. The diversity of opinion was absolutely overwhelming! To such an extent that after two days of lively discussion it became very difficult to produce a short summary or a take-home message.
There was however two important points most attendees agreed upon:
- Resilience is a useful notion for their work
- It will be worth pursuing our quest to understand ecosystem resilience after the meeting – and we are already getting organise to do so.
Lake BESS is looking forward to going to the 100th Ecological Society of America (ESA) annual meeting in Baltimore! We have a talk scheduled Friday August 14th 2015 during the session “COS 142: Habitat Structure, Fragmentation, Connectivity”.
This is a very exciting opportunity to present our work asking the question: Does connectivity increase resilience of biodiversity against eutrophication in networks of shallow lakes? Our talk will be the only one focusing on freshwater in an collection of oral papers otherwise dedicated to ecological connectivity.
We will be using aquatic plant surveys conducted between 1983 and 2014 in our two study areas: The Broads, England, UK, and the Upper Lough Erne area, Northern Ireland, UK, and we will identify the relative importance of:
- connectivity between lakes,
- local water chemistry
- lake morphology
- and other factors
to explain the aquatic vegetation patters in the two lake districts during two time periods.
This post highlights another project Carl Sayer, Lake BESS’s principal investigator, is involved with: The Norfolk Pond Project. Ponds sustain a major share of freshwater diversity yet they have been subjected to near-systematic destruction, pollution or abandonment since WWII.
After years of neglect by conservation and research compared to other habitats, ponds are finally being incorporated into UK aquatic conservation approaches and the Norfolk Pond Project is an excellent example:
“Norfolk holds more ponds than any other English county with an estimated 23,000 ponds present. Most of these ponds are located in farmland, and have their origins as marl or clay pits and in some cases livestock-watering ponds dug in the 17th to 19th centuries. “
“In addition the Brecks, west Norfolk and sites north of Norwich are home to some of the most amazingly diverse ancient ponds in the UK, pingos – ponds that occupy ice depressions formed during the last great ice age. A great place to see pingos is at Norfolk Wildlife Trust’s nature reserve, Thompson Common.”
“The Norfolk Ponds Project aims to reverse the decline of Norfolk’s ponds so that agricultural landscapes contain a mosaic of clean water ponds with fewer ponds overgrown by trees and bushes.” Read the leaflet for more information on this exciting new project!
Thanks to Carl for providing all the material for this post.
In a collaboration with Adrian Newton’s team in Bournemouth (BESS project on “Dynamics and Thresholds of Ecosystem Services in Wooded Landscapes”), Lake BESS is co-organising a BESS-funded workshop on resilience to take place June 18-19 in London.
There is more information about the workshop and how BESS people can take part here.
This will be a unique occasion to develop ideas around resilience, biodiversity and ecosystem services and a good chance to network with like-minded people who think resilience is an important notion to better communicate our science.
The Lake BESS team has just spent four full days on the water to collect bryozoans statoblasts from 14 different Norfolk broads. You will find more information about our work on bryozoans in this previous post.
The aim of this sampling is to gather evidence regarding how connectivity between lakes influences the movement of aquatic biodiversity, in particular bryozoan population genetics.
We were extremely privileged to be shown around by Geoff Philips, who greatly facilitated this field work with his knowledge of the area and of the people managing The Broads – at the Broads Authority, the Norfolk Wildlife trust, etc.
Last summer, we collected similar samples from the Upper Lough Erne region, Northern Ireland. With this trip in the Broads we completed the sampling of bryozoans for our project. We used an Ekman grab from our boat to retrieve lake surface sediment, i.e. oozy mud.
But collecting the mud is only the first step of the sampling. Back on the shore, our bryozoans expert Beth screened the sediments through a microscope to pick out individuals statoblasts (the dormant phase of bryozoans measuring less than 1 mm in diameter). These individual statoblasts are going to be sent off for their DNA to be extracted.
We are expecting to find out that isolated broads have bryozoans population with more distinct genetics than those from broads connected to the river systems. But we are really not sure how the gene flow within the Broads will compare with that experienced within the Upper Lough Erne region, so we are looking forward to get our results – and we are hope to be surprised!
Many thanks for the many people who helped making this sampling possible!
The UK and Ireland Lakes Network meeting was taking place in Abergavenny, South Wales, yesterday and the day before. This was a great opportunity for Lake BESS to meet other people working with lakes, hear about their activities and introduce our research.
In addition to many inspirational talks, we got very insightful feedback regarding our research project, following Ambroise Baker’s presentation. Thank you to Catherine Duigan from Natural Resources Wales for sharing this picture tweeted during the conference.
The eutrophication (or excessive enrichment by nutrients as a result of human activities) of lowland lakes is a widespread problem globally but is particularly serious in densely populated areas of Europe and North America.
While the negative effects of nutrient enrichment are considerable in term of biodiversity loss and alterations in ecosystem functioning, one possible positive aspect is the increased rate of organic carbon burial. This means that regional carbon budgets may benefit from eutrophication, leading to a positive effect on climate regulation.
The possible climate regulating role of lakes as carbon sinks is only now being evaluated but to date there has been limited consideration of change in organic carbon burial rates in response to eutrophication.
A recently published study by Helen Bennion, one of the Lake BESS team, with John Anderson (Loughborough University) and Andy Lotter (Utrecht University) has revealed that the accumulation rates of organic carbon in many European lakes have increased by at least four to five fold over the last 100-150 years (Anderson et al., 2014).
This piece of research compiled data from about 90 European lakes and found background estimates of carbon burial ~ 5–10 g C m-2 yr–1 compared with an average rate of around 60 g C m-2 yr–1 for lakes subject to eutrophication in recent decades.
They show that the organic carbon burial rates for European eutrophic lakes reflect phosphorus availability – a pollutant coming for example from domestic waste waters and farming – and are considerably higher than previously thought. This has clear implications for our current estimates of regional carbon budgets and for the role lakes may play.
The authors suggest that enhanced organic carbon burial by lakes is one positive side-effect of the otherwise negative impact of the anthropogenic disruption of nutrient cycles: eutrophic lakes are sequestering more organic carbon than at any other time in their history.
Within the Lake BESS project, changes in organic carbon burial rates will be calculated for the study sites in the two lake regions to determine the role of these lakes as carbon sinks and hence in providing the important ecosystem service of climate regulation.
Reference: [include link]
Anderson N.J., Bennion H. & Lotter A.F. (2014) Lake eutrophication and its implications for organic carbon sequestration in Europe. Global Change Biology 20, 2741–2751. doi: 10.1111/gcb.12584