, Volume 6, Issue 7, pp 659-674
Date: 23 Oct 2003

Ecological Forecasting and the Urbanization of Stream Ecosystems: Challenges for Economists, Hydrologists, Geomorphologists, and Ecologists

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Abstract

The quantity and quality of freshwater resources are now being seriously threatened, partly as a result of extensive worldwide changes in land use, and scientists are often called upon by policy makers and managers to predict the ecological consequences that these alterations will have for stream ecosystems. The effects of the urbanization of stream ecosystems in the United States over the next 20 years are of particular concern. To address this issue, we present a multidisciplinary research agenda designed to improve our forecasting of the effects of land-use change on stream ecosystems. Currently, there are gaps in both our knowledge and the data that make it difficult to link the disparate models used by economists, hydrologists, geomorphologists, and ecologists. We identify a number of points that practitioners in each discipline were not comfortable compromising on—for example, by assuming an average condition for a given variable. We provide five instructive examples of the limitations to our ability to forecast the fate of stream and riverine ecosystems one drawn from each modeling step: (a) Accurate economic methods to forecast land-use changes over long periods (such as 20 years) are not available, especially not at spatially explicit scales; (b) geographic data are not always available at the appropriate resolution and are not always organized in categories that are hydrologically, ecologically, or economically meaningful; (c) the relationship between low flows and land use is sometimes hard to establish in anthropogenically affected catchments; (d) bed mobility, suspended sediment load, and channel form—all of which are important for ecological communities in streams—are difficult to predict; and (e) species distributions in rivers are not well documented, and the data that do exist are not always publicly available or have not been sampled at accurate scales, making it difficult to model ecological responses to specified levels of environmental change. Meeting these challenges will require both interdisciplinary cooperation and a reviewed commitment to intradisciplinary research in the fields of economics, geography, quantitative spatial analysis, hydrology, geomorphology, and ecology.