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WIREs Water
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Coupling virtual watersheds with ecosystem services assessment: a 21st century platform to support river research and management

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The demand for freshwater is projected to increase worldwide over the coming decades, resulting in severe water stress and threats to riverine biodiversity, ecosystem functioning, and services. A major societal challenge is to determine where environmental changes will have the greatest impacts on riverine ecosystem services and where resilience can be incorporated into adaptive resource planning. Both water managers and scientists need new integrative tools to guide them toward the best solutions that meet the demands of a growing human population but also ensure riverine biodiversity and ecosystem integrity. Resource planners and scientists could better address a growing set of riverine management and risk mitigation issues by (1) using a ‘virtual watersheds’ approach based on improved digital river networks and better connections to terrestrial systems, (2) integrating virtual watersheds with ecosystem services technology (ARtificial Intelligence for Ecosystem Services: ARIES), and (3) incorporating the role of riverine biotic interactions in shaping ecological responses. This integrative platform can support both interdisciplinary scientific analyses of pressing societal issues and effective dissemination of findings across river research and management communities. It should also provide new integrative tools to identify the best solutions and trade‐offs to ensure the conservation of riverine biodiversity and ecosystem services. WIREs Water 2015, 2:609–621. doi: 10.1002/wat2.1106 This article is categorized under: Water and Life > Conservation, Management, and Awareness
Diagram showing components of the coupled Virtual Watershed‐ARtificial Intelligence for Ecosystem Services (ARIES) platform and the dual objectives it can be used to achieve.
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A ‘network of networks’—the spatial configuration of ecological interaction networks within a river network. (Reprinted with permission from Ref . Copyright 2012 Academic Press). Local stream food webs for the Ashdown Forest, UK. Each individual stream food web is shown alongside regional and global food webs. Each web (local and regional) contains the same number and positioning of nodes as in the global web: macroinvertebrate taxa present within the depicted web are shown in solid black dots, whereas nodes present in the global web but absent from the depicted web are shown in gray. All streams are part of the River Medway or River Ouse catchments which are separated by the dashed line.
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River ecosystem components at different levels of organization and alternative techniques (Colored arrows) that could be used to characterize these ecosystem components. Some of these techniques could actually be applied to more than one ecosystem component (White arrows show interactions among ecosystem components; DOM, dissolved organic matter; GPP, gross primary productivity; ER, ecosystem respiration.).
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The coupling of the digital elevation model (DEM) with synthetic hydrography contains a numerical data structure that support five types of analytical capabilities (Box ). Multiple connectivity pathways include (i) river connected, (ii) Euclidean distance, (iii) slope distance, (iv) gravity‐driven flow paths, and (v) modified slope distance. These components comprise a virtual watershed. (Reprinted with permission from Ref . Copyright 2014)
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Diagram showing theoretical linkages between different biophysical ecosystem components (ECs) and riverine ecosystem services (OM, organic matter; SS, suspended solids).
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