Predicting ecosystem-level responses to climate change
- Universidade de Évora(líder)
- CIIMAR - Centro Interdisciplinar de Investigação Marinha e Ambiental(parceiro)
- Fundação Gaspar Frutuoso(parceiro)
Climate change is causing biodiversity loss at unprecedented rates threatening ecological stability and human welfare. Freshwater ecosystems (e.g. ponds, lakes, rivers) are particularly vulnerable since species’ potential responses to climate change (e.g. warming, drought) are constrained by the relatively discrete boundaries of these ecosystems. Predicting such responses remains a challenge because most research is still focused on individual species and rarely generalized across different scales and climatic conditions. To advance our understanding on how natural systems respond to climate change it is crucial to find ways to reconcile research at individual, community and ecosystem-level. Eco-physiological studies measuring how organisms adapt to environmental conditions have demonstrated the crucial role of temperature in constraining species distributions. Ecological networks, such as aquatic food webs, are reorganizing as a result of such distributional shifts. In particular, increased temperatures have negative impacts on higher trophic levels (e.g. predatory fish) with cascading effects on food-web structure (e.g. “what-eats-what”) and vital ecosystem services (e.g. detrital decomposition, carbon sequestration). The potential loss of higher trophic levels is particularly crucial in freshwater systems since it can enhance greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions (e.g. CO2, CH4), leading to further global warming (>20% of global CH4 emissions originate in freshwater systems). However, the relationship between food-web structure and GHG emissions is not well understood, particularly in the context of climate change. Unravelling the links between changes in food web structure and GHG emissions is critical to be able to predict how aquatic ecosystems respond to change, but also how much they are contributing to such change. AdaptAlentejo – Predicting ecosystem-level responses to climate change – will address this gap in knowledge by combining multiple disciplines (physiology, biogeochemistry, geophysics) and state-of-art tools (metagenomics, ecological networks, carbon flux measurements). Specific objectives include: (1) Quantify species’ physiological responses to increasing temperatures; (2) Quantify energy flows within aquatic food webs; (3) Test ecosystem-level responses using biodiversity surveys; experimental mesocosms and whole-ecosystem (i.e. reservoirs) manipulations. AdaptAlentejo will use the Guadiana basin (Portugal), and the Europe’s largest artificial water reservoir network – Alqueva – as a case study. AdaptAlentejo brings together an international interdisciplinary team coordinated by an early-career ecologist, Miguel Matias, with experience in theoretical, empirical and experimental approaches in aquatic biodiversity research and, Miguel B. Araújo a leading expert in biodiversity modelling and climate change. AdaptAlentejo partners with EDIA and the Alqueva Multi-purpose Undertaking Infrastructure to link state-of-art research with decision-making processes (i.e. risk assessment, mitigation and/or prevention) in response to future environmental changes.
Objectives, activities and expected/achieved results
The main objective is to develop a comprehensive understanding of the consequences of changes in aquatic ecosystems to improve ecosystem-level predictions of responses to climate change. Specific objectives include: (i) Quantify individual species’ physiological responses to increased temperatures; (ii) Quantify energy flows within aquatic food webs; (iii) Test ecosystem-level responses using biodiversity surveys; experimental mesocosms and whole-ecosystem (i.e. reservoirs) manipulations.
The objectives outlined above will be addressed through a series of independent, though interconnected activities (A):
- Identify environmental drivers of food-web structure (A1) and ecosystem services (A2),
- Quantify species’ physiological responses to temperature (A3);
- Quantify energy flows within food-webs (A4);
- Test ecosystem-level responses using experimental mesocosms (A5) and whole-ecosystem manipulations (A6);
- Generate a database with distributional, physiological, trait and trophic interaction data generated by A1 to A6 (A7);
- Predict future changes in aquatic food webs and ecosystem services using a combination of theoretical and computational approaches (A8).
AdaptAlentejo aims to contribute to the advancement of global change ecology by developing and implementing cutting-edge approaches, but also by generating a valuable ecological indicators at multiple ecological levels, from individual species (e.g. thermal sensitivity and extinction risk) to ecosystems (e.g. carbon sink rates). This will allow stakeholders to act decisively on the adaptation to impacts of current and future changes in the environment.