Virtual Issue: Freshwater Ecology - Understanding ecosystems and reducing anthropogenic environmental stress

Edited by Paul Raven
August 2013

Humans have always been intimately linked with rivers, lakes and wetlands for water, food, fibre, medicines and places for habitation. But over-exploitation now means that many of the world's fresh waters have been radically altered and their ecosystems greatly impoverished. Pollution, habitat loss, excessive water abstraction, construction of dams, drainage and the introduction of invasive non-native species have been some of the unfortunate consequences caused by an array of factors such as urbanisation, intensification of agriculture, navigation, flood alleviation and inappropriate aquaculture. Virtually everything that alters the natural hydrological cycle in a river basin affects the behaviour, character and therefore the ecology of rivers, lakes and wetlands.

Natural freshwater ecosystems are very resilient; they can cope with episodic extremes and longer-term change provided they are able to adjust naturally and there are sufficient refuges and sources of re-colonisation. But when environmental stresses caused by human interference becomes excessive or too frequent, freshwater ecosystem functioning breaks down; food webs become distorted, plant and animal communities change and some species disappear. And the economic benefits that people take for granted are no longer available because natural processes that purify water, replenish ground water supplies, recycle nutrients, attenuate flooding, provide food fish for food and recreational sport no longer operate. The environmental stresses caused by past abuse of rivers, lakes and wetlands means that ecosystems and therefore people are far less able to deal with climatic extremes as described in the 2013 Ecological Issues volume 'The Impact of Extreme Events on Freshwater Systems'.

Rather belatedly, Society has re-discovered that healthy and resilient freshwater ecosystems are essential for human health and economic prosperity. Rectifying decades and in some cases centuries of neglect and damage has meant cleaning up polluted water, reducing the amount of water taken from rivers and lakes and restoring habitat. These actions are self-evident, but making sure they work in individual river basins means understanding how natural ecosystems work and how different types of plant and animal communities respond to various environmental stress and remedial measures. The economic costs of pollution, flooding and dealing with non-native species are huge, but river, lake and wetland restoration can also be very expensive, so getting the right remedy is paramount.

Research into ecosystem functioning, the impacts of environmental stress and effective restoration techniques plays a crucial role in applying ecological knowledge to managing and conserving fresh waters. It is increasingly important when the climatic and economic future is uncertain and unforeseen surprises more likely. This Virtual Issue provides a brief flavour of how papers in all five BES Journal since 2010 have contributed to basic scientific knowledge, improved understanding of environmental stress and the effectiveness of restoring freshwater ecosystems. The papers are arranged according to these themes, although naturally many touch on more than one.

Basic scientific understanding

Resource synergy in stream periphyton communities
Hill, WR; Roberts, BJ; Francoeur, SN; Fanta, SE

Urbanization and wetland communities: applying metacommunity theory to understand the local and landscape effects
Johnson, PTJ; Hoverman, JT; McKenzie, VJ; Blaustein, AR; Richgels, KLD

Using fine-scale GIS data to assess the relationship between intra-annual environmental niche variability and population density in a local stream fish assemblage
Knouft, JH; Caruso, NM; Dupre, PJ; Anderson, KR; Trumbo, DR; Puccinelli, J

Methane oxidation associated with submerged brown mosses reduces methane emissions from Siberian polygonal tundra
Liebner, S; Zeyer, J; Wagner, D; Schubert, C; Pfeiffer, EM; Knoblauch, C

Beyond taxonomy: a review of macroinvertebrate trait-based community descriptors as tools for freshwater biomonitoring
Menezes, S; Baird, DJ; Soares, AMVM

Ecosystem engineering by tubificid worms stimulates macrophyte growth in poorly oxygenated wetland sediments
Mermillod-Blondin, F; Lemoine, DG

Global diversity patterns and cross-taxa convergence in freshwater systems
Tisseuil, C; Cornu, JF; Beauchard, O; Brosse, S; Darwall, W; Holland, R; Hugueny, B; Tedesco, PA; Oberdorff, T

Understanding environmental stress

Litter diversity, fungal decomposers and litter decomposition under simulated stream intermittency
Bruder, A; Chauvet, E; Gessner, MO

Testing the stress-gradient hypothesis with aquatic detritivorous invertebrates: insights for biodiversity-ecosystem functioning research
Fugere, V; Andino, P; Espinosa, R; Anthelme, F; Jacobsen, D; Dangles, O

The role of dispersal levels, Allee effects and community resistance as zooplankton communities respond to environmental change
Gray, DK; Arnott, SE

Using water residency time to enhance spatio-temporal connectivity for conservation planning in seasonally dynamic freshwater ecosystems
Hermoso, V; Ward, DP; Kennard, MJ

Impacts of an aggressive riparian invader on community structure and ecosystem functioning in stream food webs
Hladyz, S; Abjornsson, K; Giller, PS; Woodward, G

Indirect facilitation promotes macrophyte survival and growth in freshwater ecosystems threatened by eutrophication
Le Bagousse-Pinguet, Y; Liancourt, P; Gross, N; Straile, D

The effects of weirs on structural stream habitat and biological communities
Mueller, M; Pander, J; Geist, J

Restoration ecology

Dispersal as a limiting factor in the colonization of restored mountain streams by plants and macroinvertebrates
Brederveld, RJ; Jahnig, SC; Lorenz, AW; Brunzel, S; Soons, MB

Improving the effectiveness of riparian management for aquatic invertebrates in a degraded agricultural landscape: stream size and land-use legacies
Greenwood, MJ; Harding, JS; Niyogi, DK; McIntosh, AR

Community effects of invasive macrophyte control: role of invasive plant abundance and habitat complexity
Kovalenko, KE; Dibble, ED; Slade, JG

Macrophytes respond to reach-scale river restorations
Lorenz, AW; Korte, T; Sundermann, A; Januschke, K; Haase, P

Functional diversity in a large river floodplain: anticipating the response of native and alien macroinvertebrates to the restoration of hydrological connectivity
Paillex, A; Doledec, S; Castella, E; Merigoux, S; Aldridge, DC

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