River metabolism: A reliable tool to ensure ecosystem health and evaluate restoration efforts?

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Hugo Enrique Reyes Aldana, Daniel Graeber, Markus Weitere, Matthew Cohen, Ute Risse-Buhl

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Rivers provide diverse ecosystem services, such as nutrient transport, biotic dispersal, water supply and recreation, yet they face multiple threats. Anthropogenic modification led to degradation, necessitating restoration efforts now mandated by national and international agreements. These expensive restoration efforts may fail if the health of ecosystem functions is not a core focus of ongoing monitoring. Here, we present an analysis of river ecosystem health, measured across a wide array of functions, including dissolved nutrient dynamics, algal biomass, and riparian vegetation and its relationship with ecosystem metabolism (gross primary production, GPP, and ecosystem respiration, ER), increasingly adopted as an integrative and readily detectable measure of function. We provide a critical review of the advantages and flaws of ecosystem metabolism as an integrative measure of river function, and consider the evidence for links between it and other desirable river services, in an effort to aid the advancement of restoration science. Most restoration efforts expected a response of river metabolism. In particular, GPP was anticipated to decline due to reestablishment of riparian vegetation. This was observed for some reaches depending on the initial states. Nonetheless, other restored reaches did not show any metabolic regime change, and in other cases, unexpected changes occurred, suggesting a stronger influence of the landscape, land-use or nutrients in controlling metabolism. While river metabolism appears to be a valuable functional parameter to assess ecosystem health, it must be evaluated in conjunction with additional parameters, in order to gain comprehensive insight into the functioning and recovery of lotic ecosystems

Resource Type:
Conference Presentation, SER2021

Pre-approved for CECs under SER's CERP program