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Impacts and indicators of change in lotic ecosystems

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Fresh waters have seen the largest decline in biodiversity of any ecosystem, with lotic ecosystems particularly impacted by human activities. The main drivers of environmental change relate primarily to agriculture, urbanization, and industrial production that have resulted in severe habitat degradation in streams and rivers worldwide. The increasing impact of climate change and invasive species has put further pressure on these systems. For more than a century, status of rivers and streams has been assessed using biological indicators and represents a prime example of applying ecological knowledge to address societal issues. Today, legislative regulations and water management rely primarily on measurements of ecological status through the assessment of biotic communities. There has been a continuous development of these biological indicators but primarily based on fundamental approaches that date back to the original assessment systems. The indicators used today ignore large parts of what is occurring in the ecosystem and cannot, in most cases, diagnose the cause of degradation with a reasonable precision. There is clearly a need to improve existing assessment systems through new and innovative approaches that, as an example, include ecosystem processes and can be linked more closely to the services that lotic ecosystems provide. This article critically reviews the use of biological indicators in the context of inherent properties of lotic ecosystems and types of degradation, and suggests how assessment could be refined through applying a number of additional approaches to those already used. WIREs Water 2014, 1:513–531. doi: 10.1002/wat2.1040 This article is categorized under: Water and Life > Conservation, Management, and Awareness Water and Life > Stresses and Pressures on Ecosystems Science of Water > Water and Environmental Change
The generic DPSIR framework for water, promoted by the European Environment Agency as an analytical framework to assess water issues. The framework allows a comprehensive assessment of issues through examination of relevant Driving forces and Pressures on the environment, the consequent State and its Impacts, and the resulting Response, and of the linkages between each element in the framework. (This figure is an adaptation of Ref. 24 and was published in 2010 in Freshwater Biology (Ref 133))
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Natural rivers are spatially nested, with larger‐scale features exerting control over lower levels. Temporal changes at each level of organization are furthermore scale‐dependent with changes occurring more frequently at lower levels. Impacts on lotic ecosystems are superimposed on this natural hierarchical structure and will differ roughly in spatiotemporal extent as shown in the figure. This is further exemplified in the text. (This is an original figure made for this paper. The figure is modified and adapted from Ref .)
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Flow diagram showing how various component parts of the ecosystem are linked to each other and to impacts on the ecosystem. Today, almost all indicator systems are based on community level information, thereby largely ignoring the other components. Applying indicators across the components and at the ecosystem level would significantly improve the knowledge base on which management decisions are taken and provide a direct link to changes in ecosystem service provision.
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Water and Life > Conservation, Management, and Awareness
Water and Life > Stresses and Pressures on Ecosystems
Science of Water > Water and Environmental Change

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