The Vitacress Conservation Trust (VCT) is playing a key role in research to understand how river life could be affected by climate change and water scarcity. The trust is supporting the DRI-STREAM (Drought Impacts on Stream Ecosystem Functioning) project, led by Dr Mark Ledger at the University of Birmingham, which uses field trials in artificial streams to determine how low water levels in chalk streams affect biodiversity, including fish, river plants, fly life and problem algae.
Climate change and human activities are expected to change the quantity of water entering rivers and streams, with potentially dramatic impacts on animals and plants resident in these ecosystems. In many regions, climate change is expected to reduce rainfall and bring about drought conditions, and water abstraction and river diversions may also reduce flows in rivers and streams. To date, relatively little work has been done to determine the effect of river droughts on aquatic biodiversity, and less is known about impacts on important processes, such as decomposition and nutrient cycling, that affect water quality and productivity of aquatic life.
With the help of VCT, the team have created the UK’s largest artificial stream facility so that they can manipulate flows to simulate drought conditions and monitor ecological responses without harming river life. The facility contains 21 artificial streams (see link below), enabling researchers to conduct highly replicated, statistically powerful, experiments at the reach scale. Experiments are now underway to establish how drought affects biodiversity, food webs and functioning. The project provides training for a number of PhD students and early career research ecologists, building the next generation of environmental scientists working in rivers. More information and images can be found at the following links:
NERC DRI-STREAM project:
NERC DRI-STREAM on Flickr: http://www.flickr.com/photos/113020503@N07