Workshop and Seminar about Upper Lough Erne’s satellite lakes

Following the previous post, this is just to let you know that our trip to Northern Ireland was very successful. It gave us a chance to discuss our research results with many partners, stakeholders and members of the public. The interest we met makes us hope that our research will find direct applications on the ground.

We would like to thank the many people who made this trip possible at the Fermanagh and Omagh District Council, Waterways Ireland, the Northern Ireland Environmental Agency and Queen’s University Belfast.

Fermanagh is the happiest place in the UK!

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.

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Lake BESS preliminary results presented in Liverpool

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.

methods in the fieldOur 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.

phtoplanktonThe 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!

Back from the field!

We’re just back from our very successful field work around the Upper Lough Erne, Co. Fermanagh, Northern Ireland. We managed to survey nearly 20 satellite loughs for aquatic plants, water chemistry and bryozoans (see this previous post).

Corracoach Lough

Access to some of the lough was sometimes tough but always rewarding. Photography by Helen Bennion.

The help we received from volunteers and project partners was absolutely tremendous! Over the two week we have been a dozen of us actively involved in this research campaign. We’d particularly like to thank Hannah, Robert, Tim and Stephen for joining our team at this occasion and also all the land owners who were kind enough to grant us access to the lakes we had targeted.

Battling through reed beds to get onto some of the lough with our boats was one of the striking aspects of this field work! But it was worth the effort and the diversity of aquatic plant observed over the two week is very impressive. For instance we have sightings for at least ten different Potamogeton species (see this previous post), an extremely good score!

We’ll post more picture and reports from this field work in the coming weeks.

P. perfoliatus

Potamogeton perfoliatus (Photograph by Ben Goldsmith)

Pondweeds

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Pondweeds

The islands of Britain and Ireland have over 40 species or hybrids of pondweeds (genus Potamogeton). This diversity in pondweed is one of the highest in Europe with most European species being represented. Unfortunately local diversity and abundance of pondweeds have declined over the 20th Century, as a result of habitat destruction and pollution. The Upper Lough Erne region and The Broads are two areas of importance for the conservation of pondweed – but “what can we learn from these strongholds?” and “what measure could enhance their recovery nationally?” are questions we are trying to address part of the Lake BESS project. (Photo by Ambroise Baker: P. polygonifolius in full bloom).

Zebra mussel from Kilturk Lough

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Zebra mussel from Kilturk Lough

But is it a zebra or is it a butterfly? Project partner Jorge Salgado suggests: “It’s a unique butterfly species with mussel wings that only inhabits the the Upper Lough Erne.”

Zebra mussel is an invasive mussel that was first observed in Ireland in 1997 but is now becoming widespread. It can use native mussel shells as substrate, as shown on this photograph taken by Jorge Salgado.

You can read about Zebra mussel in Northern Ireland in a this Zebra Mussel Management Strategy report.

Lake BESS new photographs

The Lake BESS website is being improved thanks to pictures taken by Ben Goldsmith and Tom Davidson (see Photo Credits) taken in Upper Lough Erne region and The Broads. We now have five stunning header pictures of lake landscapes and luxuriant aquatic vegetation.

These inspirational pictures were chosen to provoke thoughts on biodiversity, connectivity, ecosystem services and sustainability.

You will also note the exceptional aerial photographs of The Broads by Mike Page – visit his website for an aerial experience!

Speaking about pictures, we would like to set up a platform of exchange for anyone interested or concerned by the Upper Lough Erne region and The Broads. In particular, we plan to provide a space where to discuss photographs, whether old or recent, and life and activities around lakes in Upper Lough Erne region and The Broads.

So, watch this place and do not hesitate to get in touch if you have any picture to share or suggestion.

LakeBESS start-up

Lakes are inspirational places for people enjoying outdoor activities and they are cherished by local communities and holiday-makers alike. However, lake ecosystems are threatened by environmental change and loss of biodiversity that can have cascading and catastrophic effects.

The LakeBESS project, run from the Environmental Change Research Centre (ECRC) at UCL, is focussed on two lake districts, the Broads in East Anglia and the Upper Lough Erne district in Northern Ireland.

debarcadaireWe are looking into how biodiversity regulates ecological balance within lakes and would like to assess the consequences of biodiversity loss for the provision of ecosystem services. Ecosystem services from lakes are extremely diverse: recreation, tourism, water purification, flood prevention, provision of fish for anglers and fisheries and other supporting services such as carbon storage for climate mitigation.

Because of this variety, changes in lake ecological functioning may affect the different services in different ways, rendering best practices for restoration and management difficult to establish.

One aspect we are particularly interested to develop in LakeBESS is the importance of ecological connectivity between lakes for their biodiversity. Connectivity may be a major factor determining lake ecosystem resilience because it counter-balances the negative effect of local extinction by increasing species re-colonisation.

Another aspect of interest is the consequences of biological invasions by organisms such as zebra mussel and Canadian pondweed.

We have just started this project as part of the Biodiveristy, Ecosystem Services and Sustainablility (BESS) research programme funded by the UK Natural Environment Research Council (NERC).

Our team is composed of Carl Sayer, Helen Bennion, Jorge Salgado and Ambroise Baker at UCL, Tom Davidson at the University of Aarhus (Denmark), Beth Okamura at the Natural History Museum and Nigel Willby at Stirling University. We are looking forward to a field campaign this summer and to presenting the result of our work to the numerous stakeholders in both lake districts.

We also would love to hear your take on how changes in lakes, or in a particular lake, can affect people’s lives.