Current projects

IBERAQUA-NET. Scientific network addressing the effects of water scarcity in Iberian rivers: Recommendations for management

IBERAQUA-NET is a multi-disciplinary network that focuses on the effects of water shortage in Iberian rivers, and aims to provide a series of scientific recommendations to improve the management of fluvial ecosystems. This multi-disciplinary network includes researchers with recognized experience in analytical chemistry (CSIC-IDAEA, UVEG, CSIC-ICMAN), ecology (ICRA, UB, CSIC-ICMAN, EHU, IMDEA, UdL), modeling and numerical techniques (URV, ICRA), and water management (ICRA, IMDEA). The network will act as a unique platform to consolidate the ongoing research efforts and transfer knowledge to different sectors, either directly or indirectly related to water. The External Advisory Committee consists of both experienced researchers from the EU and water managers from agencies and hydrographic confederations, offering an integrated point of view. IBERAQUA-NET aims to translate the basic knowledge generated by various projects into recommendations for river management and uses strategic methods to disseminate and transfer knowledge in order to ensure that the results of research reach the target audience. The main tool will be the preparation and dissemination of the document “Recommendations for Management”.

BioLoss: Functional consequences of biodiversity loss caused by emerging diseases in freshwater ecosystems

The current rates of biodiversity loss are alarming and caused by different anthropogenic factors. Freshwater ecosystems are among the most affected on Earth. The loss of biodiversity is of concern due to its intrinsic value, but also because it can affect the functioning of ecosystems and the services and resources they provide to humans (e.g., good-quality water). The expansion of emerging diseases is a main factor associated to global change (intensified by climate change), which is producing massive extinctions of different organisms that are fundamental for freshwater ecosystems. In this project we examine how species loss in two groups of such organisms (riparian plants and amphibians) alters the functioning of headwater streams and mountain wetlands, respectively. We establish future scenarios of species loss caused by the expansion of pathogenic fungi of the genera Phytophthora and Batrachoquitrium. Using different experimental approaches we test several hypotheses about changes in ecological processes which are key for the provision of ecosystem services and the use of water resources. Our objectives thus fit the fifth Challenge of society, which is part of the Spanish State Plan for Scientific and Technical Research and Innovation, and focuses on action against climate change and efficiency in resource use.

GLoBE Network

GLoBE is an international network of freshwater ecologists, which main aim is to explore ecological patterns and processes in stream ecosystems at the global scale. Originally designed to specifically study one key stream ecosystem process, leaf litter breakdown (hence its name, which stands for 'Global Lotic Breakdown Experiments'), it has now expanded in order to consider a wide variety of ecological issues that are globally relevant. The network currently counts with collaborators from approximately 50 research teams from >30 countries across 6 continents.

Decomposition and Diversity in streams: a global experiment (DecoDiv)

A key question in contemporary ecology is how the loss of biological diversity affects ecosystem functioning. Plant litter decomposition is a fundamental ecosystem process with major consequences for the carbon cycle, but it is unclear how the loss of plant diversity affects decomposition rates. In a global-scale stream study, Boyero et al. ( examined decomposition rates of litter mixtures differing in phylogenetic diversity across latitudes and found that more diverse mixtures decomposed faster in the tropics, while less diverse mixtures decomposed faster at high latitudes. This suggested that different mechanisms could operate at different latitudes, possibly because different biological assemblages decompose litter at these different latitudes. While detritivores (key decomposition agents at high latitudes) might benefit from the concentration of particular resources in less diverse mixtures, microbes (dominant in the tropics) might be more efficient when using more varied resources (in more diverse mixtures) as they can optimize nutrient acquisition. We aim to explore the above question by examining decomposition rates in 3-spp litter mixtures differing in phylogenetic diversity (and hence in the concentration of different resources) at multiple sites across climatic zones. Although phylogenetic diversity and the diversity of functional traits do not always show a linear relationship (given that not all traits are phylogenetically conserved and due to the existence of convergent evolution and phenotypic plasticity), the usefulness of a phylogenetic proxy for trait diversity is maximized in studies with broad taxonomic scale. This approach can be particularly useful because phylogeny can represent a great deal of information that is not encompassed in the few traits that are generally measured.


Effects of desiccation on the self-purification capacity of headwater streams: Consequences for the stream management. Reference: KR17AC0K13643, Climate and Energy Fund, Austrian Government.


In the last decades dam removal has gained momentum as a tool for river restoration, although still little is known on its impacts and benefits on river ecosystems. The Enobieta Reservoir (Artikutza, Navarre, 42 m tall), built in the 1950´s, to supply drinking water to the province of Gipuzkoa, has been unmanaged since the Añarbe Reservoir was built further downstream in 1976. Structural problems, aggravated by decades of neglect, prompted the municipality of Donostia – San Sebastian to decomission the dam (the largest so far removed in Europe) by digging a tunnel through it. Project DESEMBALSE will investigate the effects of this major work on sediment dynamics, river biological communities and ecosystem functioning following a before-after control-impact (BACI) design. The main hypothesis is that the emptying of the reservoir will produce geomorphological changes both upstream and downstream from the dam, which will both affect both riverine communities and ecosystem functioning. Upstream from the dam a lotic habitat will be recovered whereas downstream sediment transport will cause channel agradation with significant changes in hydraulics. Given the high dynamism of the rivers in the area, a rapid recovery is expected as the sediments are distributed towards down. The results obtained from this study will provide comprehensive information on the interaction between biological and geomorphological effects after emptying the reservoir.


DIVERSION: Multi-scale consequences of water diversion on river ecosystems.

Water diversion is a prevalent activity in streams and rivers, and is likely to intensify in the near future as a result of the escalating demand for irrigation, hydropower, and drinking water. The effects of large reservoirs on river ecosystems are relatively well known, but there are many questions regarding the impact of water diversion by low weirs such as those commonly used in many hydropower and irrigation schemes. Reduced discharge in the bypassed river sections can affect water flow and chemistry and promote siltation, and increase the relative cover of dry versus wet riverbeds, thus affecting biodiversity and ecosystem functioning, as well as the ecosystem services we derive from rivers. Furthermore, water diversion will likely interact with other stressors such as pollution, aggravating their impacts. Project DIVERSION aims at assessing the impacts at multiple scales of water diversion by low weirs on the biodiversity and ecosystem functioning of north Iberian rivers, as well as the interaction between diversion and pollution, a prevalent stressor in many rivers. It does so by combining field and laboratory experiments and addressing different components of the river ecosystems, from biofilm to fish, as well as different processes linked to the biogeochemical functioning of these ecosystems. It will combine state-of-the-art techniques and take into account both the wet and the dry parts of river channels. The starting hypothesis is that diversion will deteriorate stream habitats, what in turn will have negative effects on organisms, eventually impacting river ecosystem processes and affecting the biogeochemical functioning of entire river networks. These impacts will be enhanced when stream ecosystems are subject to other stressors such as pollution or sediment deposition.