Building the future by doing more together

DOMINO EFFECT - Degradation of lOtic ecosysteMs assocIated with plaNtation fOrestry: An Evaluation of plantation Forest Food-wEb CommuniTies
Coordinator - Marta S. Monteiro
Programme - PTDC/AGR-AAM/104379/2008
Execution dates - 2010-05-01 - 2013-10-31 (42 Months)
Funding Entity - FCT
Funding for CESAM - 194592 €
Total Funding - 194592 €
Proponent Institution - Universidade de Aveiro

Whilst deforestation of natural forests represents one of the major causes of biodiversity loss [Laurance07], the extent of plantation forests increased by 42% between 1990 and 2005 with the largest European increases occurring in Mediterranean countries [FAO06]. Represented by
vast areas of monoculture this trend in afforestation has raised concern for biodiversity conservation. Although new evidence has highlighted some of the conservation opportunities associated with plantation forests, recent syntheses have neglected to consider the consequences for river ecosystems [Brockerhoff_etal08]. This is unfortunate given the inexorable links between river systems and the land they drain and the fact that, in some regions, rivers are considered to host the keystone species of forest ecosystems and thus underpin forest biodiversity [Willson_etal98]. More fundamentally, river ecosystems themselves represent a major nexus of biodiversity, often supporting species of high economic and conservation value. Representing a radical change to catchment landscapes, plantation forests result in major transformations to the energy base and habitat quality of lotic ecosystems. Afforestation of Pine and Eucalypt is associated with increased stream acidity and a reduction in base cations whilst the short rotation harvesting of trees deprives stream systems of inputs of large woody debris [Gurnell_etal95] [Canhoto&Laranjeira07]. Recent studies on the energy flow between terrestrial-aquatic ecotones of forest streams have revealed ramifying secondary affects that cascade through terrestrial and lotic food webs [Kawaguchi_etal03] [Ballinger&Lake06], emphasizing the need for an integrated perspective to the management of forest biodiversity. However, despite the important progress that has been made towards understanding forested ecosystems in temperate zones, knowledge of forest streams in Mediterranean Europe, particularly at the ecosystem level, remains scarce. Thirty-eight percent of the land in Portugal (> 3 million hectares) is dedicated to forestry, with Pine and Eucalypt plantations accounting for 23% and 21% of forest cover respectively. To date studies on the effects for river ecosystems have largely focused on the nutritional value of Eucalyptus leaves for macroinvertebrate fauna [Graca_etal01]. Whilst these studies have revealed important mechanistic links between microbial and macroinvertebrate communities [Ferreira_etal06] the consequences for energy and nutrient transfer to high trophic levels remain unknown. The effects on fish communities of Portuguese streams have not been described, and the ramifications for the wider forest ecosystems that have been demonstrated elsewhere have yet to be studied. Simultaneously acting on the energy-base, hydrology, water quality, and the physical habitat, the effects of afforestation are realized over a range of spatio-temporal scales and affect river organisms though a variety of pathways. The proposed research represents a multi-faceted study of the effects of plantation forest ecosystems focusing on key ecological communities (macroinvertebrates, fish and amphibians) and the flow and transfer of energy within and across aquatic and riparian habitats. Based on comparative analysis of perennial and intermittent streams in Eucalypt, Pine and Broadleaf forests constraints on ecological quality will be elucidated by detailed descriptions of habitat structure and water quality. Information from field studies will be supplemented by a laboratory study on the toxicity of leaf leachates that are thought to be particular damaging in intermittent streams [Canhoto&Laranjei07]. Filling a major knowledge gap on natural and production forestry in Mediterranean climates the proposed research will provide fundamental data on lotic-forest food webs, crucial contextual information on several IUCN red-listed taxa (fish and amphibians) and the first systematic study of amphibians associated with river ecosystem in the Iberian Peninsula. Developing a suite of indicators at the population and community level will provide a valuable means of assessing ecological quality, whilst the establishment of a standard amphibian exposure-test will represent a major innovation in Mediterranean ecotoxicology and risk assessment. The resultant tool box for the bioassessment of river ecosystems in Atlantic-Mediterranean forested landscapes will present an invaluable contribution to the increasingly popular accreditation systems [Council_09] that pledge to ensure sustainable forestry practice - an objective that demands comprehensive knowledge and understanding of their lotic biodiversity.

Members on this project
Daniel Cleary
team member

grant holder
Kieran Monaghan
team member

PhD student
grant holder

CESAM Funding: