Previous 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.


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.


Invasion of stream ecosystems by the red swamp crayfish: mechanisms responsible for the invasion success and consequences at eco-evolutionary and socieconomic levels

We will address two types of phenomena characterizing the invasion of streams by the red swamp crayfish (RSC): (1) the mechanisms responsible for its successful establishment in such a novel habitat (its original habitat being swamps and marshes) and (2) the ecological, evolutionary and socio-economic consequences of its invasion. We will address our first objective using new generation sequencing techniques (genomics and transcriptomics). We will compare the genome of stream and swamp populations and identify loci responsible for local adaptation. We will examine gene expression patterns in individuals subjected to environmental conditions (current, temperature, salinity) typical of either streams or swamps to identify mechanisms responsible for the successful invasion of the stream habitat. We will also compare the genetic diversity of invasive populations to those of the native range to identify patterns of introduction, spread and gene flow. We will explore the effects of the RSC on stream ecosystem structure and functioning (food web complexity, rates of key ecological processes) and on interactions with the native crayfish and native fish and amphibians (rates of predation, prey ability to recognize the predator through chemical cues, infection by crayfish plague and chytrid fungus). We will use an evolutionary perspective, comparing the ecological effects of stream RSC populations (which have potentially evolved in response to the new habitat) to those of founder, swamp populations. Finally, we will examine the socio-economic consequences of the RSC by quantifying its effects on several key ecosystem services (nutrient retention, litter decomposition) and modelling the economic cost of its spread through stream networks. This project was funded by the Junta de Andalucía,189,894 (2014-2017)

GLOBAQUA. Managing the effects of multiple stressors on aquatic ecosystems under water scarcity

This EU-FP7 project aims at identifying the prevalence, interaction and linkages between stressors, and to assess their effects in the chemical and ecological status of water ecosystems in order to improve water management practice and policies. It involves a multidisciplinary team of 21 European partner organizations plus 2 non-European partners from Morocco and Canada, as well as the active involvement of water authorities, river basin managers, and other relevant stakeholders. A cross-scale approach is applied in six representative basins: Ebro, Adige, Sava, Evrotas, Anglian River and Souss Massa. The main added value of GLOBAQUA project is the inclusion a multidisciplinary team of leading scientists in the fields of hydrology, chemistry, biology, ecology, geomorphology, economics and sociology, including hydrological, biophysical and ecological modelling, socio-economics and governance science, knowledge brokerage and policy advocacy, in order to study the interaction of multiple stressors in freshwater ecosystems within the frame of strong pressure on water resources. The project performs data-mining and field- and laboratory-based research, as well as modelling at different spatial scales and socioeconomic research. The results will be placed under the scope of societal and economical needs, with improved policy implementation being the final product. GLOBAQUA will develop a relevant Programme of Measures in order to reduce the Science-Policy interface gap.
GLOBAQUA has recieved funding from the European Union´s Seventh Programme for research, technological development and demonstration under grant agreement No 603629.

More information on the GLOBAQUA website

BIOFUNCTION.How will the biodiversity crisis affect vital stream ecosystem functions?

We are facing biodiversity loss at unprecedented rates, and there is unequivocal evidence that changes in biodiversity can alter ecosystem functioning. However, our mechanistic understanding of biodiversity effects on vital functions such as plant litter decomposition and element recycling (which are key components of the global carbon cycle) is still in its infancy. This project addresses some existing gaps in our understanding of how these functions might be affected by biodiversity loss, using forest streams as model systems. We examine several key questions: 1) whether the functional diversity of plant litter and detritivores has a greater influence on decomposition than species richness; 2) whether more diverse plant litter pools lead to more efficient decomposition, explicitly taking into account the different forms of carbon and nutrients into which litter is converted; 3) whether top-down are greater than bottom-up diversity effects on decomposition and element recycling; and 4) whether the magnitude of diversity effects on decomposition rivals the single and joint impacts of key drivers of global environmental change. Our experimental manipulations in microcosms will simulate realistic diversity loss and environmental change events, and the use of several techniques that are novel within a biodiversity-ecosystem functioning context will facilitate the investigation of the biological mechanisms ultimately responsible for biodiversity effects on decomposition..

METATOOL: Metabolism as a tool to assess the status of river ecosystems

Metabolism is the total of all the chemical reactions occurring within a living organism, and is usually evaluated through an overall variable like oxygen consumption. Stream metabolism is, thus, the overall production and consumption of oxygen, by the whole stream ecosystem, and results from the balance between photosynthesis and respiration. Based on continuous measurements of discharge, temperature and oxygen, we measured stream metabolism at 21 sites in Biscay and Guipuscoa through the open-channel method. We created an excel-based tool to automatically calculate metabolism from diel oxygen-concentration curves, that can be freely downloaded.

RIVERMET © is an user-friendly but flexible Excel-based software to calculate river metabolism from continuous single station data on discharge, temperature and dissolved oxygen. A PC with Microsoft Excel 2000 or newer,and Access 2000 or newer is necessary to run RIVERMET ©.
This project was funded by the Spanish Ministry of Science and Technology (BOS2003-04466).


RIVFUNCTION: Integrating ecosystem functioning into river quality assessment and management

Small streams are highly dependent on the terrestrial environment, and in many parts of the world their food basis is leaf litter falling from the riparian forests. Therefore, the capacity to break down leaves gives important clues on the function of stream ecosystems. The main objective of RIVFUNCTION was to develop a tool based on litter breakdown, to assess the functional status of streams. It was a EU-funded project involving partners all across Europe.
This project was funded by the European Union (EVK1-2001-00088).

More information on the RIVFUNCTION website

Assessing functional variability of small Iberian streams

The Iberian Peninsula shows marked climatic and geomorphologic contrasts, in particular between Atlantic and Mediterranean regions. It is likely that rivers within each region also will show variability, which may have implications when characterizing river types. The natural spatio-temporal variability of rivers should be taken into account to define reference conditions and boundaries between quality classes when assessing stream ecological status. This project, funded by the Spanish Ministry of Education and Science, studied functional variability of headwater stream, reference sites, through leaf-litter decomposition, a key ecosystem-level process sensitive to disturbances affecting freshwaters. This was a comparative study among four regions from north to south in the Iberian Peninsula, acting upon a varied set of Spanish headwater streams, and a previous step for IMPARIOS project


IMPARIOS: Assessing functional impacts in Iberian headwaters

Solutions to problems affecting river ecosystems will arrive with a better understanding on their structure and function. Leaf litter decomposition is a pivotal process in the stream functioning, and sensitive to disturbances. The aim of this project, founded by Spanish Ministry of Education and Science, is to assess the impact of different kind of disturbances (Nutrient enrichment, Flow regulation & Catchment land uses) in the functioning of low order Iberian streams through the response of leaf litter decomposition, in four geographic and climatic regions in the Iberian Peninsula.
This project was funded by the Spanish Ministry of Education and Science (CGL2007-66664-C04-01).


COMPLEXTREAM: Restoring channel complexity in Basque streams

The channels of most European streams and rivers have been profoundly modified by dredging, straightening, and other human actions. Less known, but also ecologically important, is the removal of dead wood, a key structure affecting both stream communities and ecosystem functioning. Streams running to the Añarbe reservoir, in the Aiako Harria Natural Park (Guipuscoa), have excellent water quality, but simplified channels and impoverished communities.

A EU-LIFE project intended to improve nature management of the park. One of the strategies was to introduce dead wood into stream channels to enhance channel complexity, to improve habitat of endangered species (mainly Pyrenean desman and European mink), and to promote retention of leaf litter that otherwise could harm water quality at the reservoir. Our group designed the restoration works, and made the scientific follow-up, that includes channel geomorphology, algae, invertebrates and fish, and ecosystem-level functions like leaf retention and decomposition, thanks to a project funded by the Spanish Ministry of Education and Science.
This project was funded by the Spanish Ministry of Education and Science (CGL2007-65176/HID).

More information on the project website


TEMPERIOS: Effect of temperature on the functioning of streams in Northern Spain

The project continues as RIOTEM


RIOTEM: Effect of temperature on the functioning of streams in Northern Spain

The increase of Earth’s temperature during the last decades has resulted in an increasing number of studies about climate change, as its effects on ecosystems, including small headwater streams, are still poorly known, especially when interactions with other local factors occur. Leaf litter decomposition is a key process in heterotrophic streams and has a major interest due to its role within the global carbon cycle, as global warming might accelerate decomposition rates. Moreover, other factors such as geology and differences in benthic communities might control the response of stream functioning to global warming within a given regional setting. The main objective of this project is to evaluate the effect of temperature on leaf litter decomposition and other associated variables as indicators of changes in the functioning of small streams in Northern Spain and evaluate its importance for stream ecosystems within future climate scenarios.
This project was funded by the Spanish Ministry of Science and Innovation (CGL2011-23984).


SCARCE: Assessing and predicting effects on water quantity and quality in Iberian rivers caused by global change

SCARCE is a multipurpose project that aims to describe and predict the relevance of global change impacts on water availability, water quality and ecosystem services in Mediterranean river basins of the Iberian Peninsula, as well as their impacts on the human society and economy. Hence, the project has assembled a multidisciplinary team of leading scientists in the fields of hydrology, geomorphology, chemistry, ecology, ecotoxicology, economy, engineering and modeling, in an unknown effort in the CONSOLIDER framework. The project also has the active involvement of Water Authorities and other relevant agents as stakeholders.

SCARCE has two complemetary objectives:

1) The first and largest tackles basic research questions that will define the long-term patterns and actual mechanisms that operate in the hydrology, water quality, habitat dynamics and ecosystem structure and function of Mediterranean watersheds.

2) The second objective of the project is related to the effects of climate and human footprint (taken both as key elements of global change) on the fershwatyer ecosystem services, as well as the urgent need to finalize, implement, and eventually refine the River Basin Management Plans (RBMP) demanded by the EU Water Framework Directive.

This project was funded by the Spanish Ministry of Science and innovation (CSD2009-00065).

More information on the SCARCE website


ABSTRACT: Effects of water abstraction on river ecosystem functioning

Water abstraction is a prevalent impact on world rivers, and is expected to increase in the near future as a consequence of rising human population. Whereas the impacts of large reservoirs on river ecosystem structure and functioning are pretty well known, much less information is available on the effects of abstraction schemes based on low dams, like small hydropower plants and water derivations for agriculture. Abstraction reduces discharge, and thus, affects water velocity and turbulence, the wetted perimeter, the cover of parafluvial areas, and inputs of organic matter and sediments from upstream. All these changes can have important impacts on river ecosystem functioning at both the local and the reach scale. Our objective was to assess the impact of water abstraction on river ecosystem functioning. More specifically, we assessed its effects on channel form and sediment dynamics, on the storage and breakdown of organic matter, on the affinity of benthic substrata for dissolved nutrients, on the self-purification capacity of streams, on the importance of hyporheic vs surface processes, and on whole-stream metabolism. These impacts were analyzed by combining field and laboratory experiments.
This project was funded by the Spanish Ministry of Economy and Competitiveness (CGL2012-35848) and FEDER.