Assessing Freshwater Ecosystem Service Risk over Ecological, Socioeconomic, and Cultural Gradients: Problem Space Characterization and Methodology

Monday, 15 December 2014
Sandra R Villamizar1, Thomas C Harmon1, Daniel Conde2, James Rusak3, Brian Reid4, Anna Astorga4, Gerardo M Perillo5, Maria C Piccolo5, Mariana Zilio6, Silvia London6, Maria Velez7, Natalia Hoyos8 and Jaime Escobar9, (1)University of California Merced, Merced, CA, United States, (2)Universidad de la República, Montevideo, Uruguay, (3)Queen's University, Kingston, ON, Canada, (4)Centro de Investigaciones en Ecosystemas de la Patagonia, Universidad Austral de Chile, Coyhaique, Chile, (5)Instituto Argentino de Oceanografía, Bahía Blanca, Argentina, (6)Instituto de Investigaciones Económicas y Sociales del Sur UNS-CONICET, Bahía Blanca, Argentina, (7)University of Regina, Regina, SK, Canada, (8)Corporación Geológica Ares, Bogotá, Colombia, (9)Universidad del Norte, Barranquilla, Colombia
Freshwater ecosystems and the services they provide are under increasing anthropogenic pressure at local (e.g., irrigation diversions, wastewater discharge) and global scales (e.g., climate change, global trading). The impact depends on an ecosystem’s sensitivity, which is determined by its geophysical and ecological settings, and the population and activities in its surrounding watershed. Given the importance of ecosystem services, it is critical that we improve our ability to identify and understand changes in aquatic ecosystems, and translate them to risk of service loss. Furthermore, to inspire changes in human behavior, it is equally critical that we learn to communicate risk, and pose risk mitigation strategies, in a manner acceptable to a broad spectrum of stakeholders. Quantifying the nature and timing of the risk is difficult because (1) we often fail to understand the connection between anthropogenic pressures and the timing and extent of ecosystem changes; and (2) the concept of risk is inherently coupled to human perception, which generally differs with cultural and socio-economic conditions. In this study, we endeavor to assess aquatic ecosystem risks across an international array of six study sites. The challenge is to construct a methodology capable of capturing the marked biogeographical, socioeconomic, and cultural differences among the sites, which include: (1) Muskoka River watershed in humid continental Ontario, Canada; (2) Lower San Joaquin River, an impounded snow-fed river in semi-arid Central California; (3) Ciénaga Grande de Santa Marta, a tropical coastal lagoon in Colombia; (4) Senguer River basin in the semi-arid part of Argentina; (5) Laguna de Rocha watershed in humid subtropical Uruguay; and (6) Palomas Lake complex in oceanic Chilean Patagonia. Results will include a characterization of the experimental gradient over the six sites, an overview of the risk assessment methodology, and preliminary findings for several of the sites.