Imperial are founding partners in a new Europe-wide network of aquatic ecosystem experiments stretching from the Arctic to the Mediterranean.
The new network is funded by the European Commission and has a budget of nearly €10m until December 2020. The network will perform the first systematic large-scale experiments to compare how both freshwater and marine ecosystems respond to environmental pressures, including climatic change and other effects of the growing human population.
Our mesocosm facility provides the large-scale replication needed to tease apart the effect of rising temperatures and other stress factors on aquatic food webs, and to gauge the scope for resilience and adaptation in the real world.
– Professor Guy Woodward
It includes 21 institutions across 12 countries, and will bring together research using mesocosms - containers in which large volumes (1-1000 m3) of water are enclosed and manipulated for experiments. They provide a powerful tool for studying the impacts of environmental change in marine and freshwater ecosystems.
Mesocosms can be seeded with many different animals and plants to create functioning ecosystems. By changing conditions in these enclosures, such as temperature or salinity, scientists can test the possible effects of such changes on whole food webs, over weeks to years.
The Imperial collaborators, a team at the Silwood Park campus led by Professor Guy Woodward, have set up a mesocosm facility of over 100 freshwater ponds. By changing conditions in these ponds they will examine the biological responses to warming and drought, simulating different climate change scenarios.
Professor Woodward said: “Our mesocosm facility provides the large-scale replication needed to tease apart the effect of rising temperatures and other stress factors on aquatic food webs, and to gauge the scope for resilience and adaptation in the real world.”
The new network, called the Network of Leading European AQUAtic MesoCOSM Facilities Connecting Mountains to Oceans from the Arctic to the Mediterranean (AQUACOSM), will allow the Imperial team to go even further.
The impact of stress factors like rising temperatures can vary widely within different ecosystems and seasons. Therefore they have to be investigated in different climatic and geographic regions, using comparable mesocosm experiments and measurement methods.
By fostering new collaborations, AQUACOSM will allow the Imperial team to work with with identical experiments across Europe, providing information about how aquatic ecosystems respond to environmental change at a truly continental scale.
AQUACOSM aims to increase our understanding of complex processes controlling water ecosystems all the way from mountain lakes and rivers to coasts and oceans.
Project leader Jens Nejstgaard from the Leibniz-Institute of Freshwater Ecology said: “A better understanding of these complex processes is urgently needed to improve predictions of our future environment and to develop plans to counteract the strong impact of human activities on one of our most important global resource: water, and the life in it.”
As well as sharing know-how and working with new technologies, AQUACOSM will train a new generation of scientists and offer researchers from around the world a chance to propose and test new scientific hypotheses at the world-leading European facilities.
The project is: EU H2020-INFRAIA-project No 731065 “AQUACOSM: Network of Leading European AQUAtic MesoCOSM Facilities Connecting Mountains to Oceans from the Arctic to the Mediterranean”
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