Researchers aim to forecast impact of urban, agricultural development on aquatic ecosystems

Sponsored by

MADISON, WI, Oct. 16, 2013 -- A team of UW-Madison researchers is hoping to incorporate some ecology into economic decision making by forecasting how future policies regarding urban development and agricultural cultivation may impact aquatic ecosystems, which harbor astounding amounts of biodiversity and provide humans with vital goods and services.

"The idea is to see what future land use changes may look like under different policies, and think about where potential threats to freshwater would be most severe," says Sebastián Martinuzzi, a post-doctoral researcher at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. "We are not trying to predict the 'true' future, but rather to visualize potential economic trends and their environmental consequences."

Martinuzzi, who works in Professor Volker Radeloff's lab in the Department of Forest and Wildlife Ecology, is lead author of a report entitled "Land Use Change and Freshwater Conservation," published Oct. 15 in the journal "Global Change Biology." In the study, a team of UW ecologists and collaborating economists mapped out various economic development scenarios and connected them to impacts on freshwater species diversity across the United States.

Every acre of crops put into production and each paved cul-de-sac in a new subdivision can change how water moves across the land, its temperature, and the levels of sediment and pollutants flowing into downstream freshwater ecosystems.

Using computer modeling and GIS mapping, Martinuzzi and the team developed four different scenarios to help illustrate future human endeavors. In their models, the researchers found that the news isn't all bad. Crop cover is actually projected to go down under certain policy scenarios in the Midwest, which could signal an opportunity to purchase fallow fields for conservation purposes. However, in places like California and the southeastern U.S., urbanization is likely going to be a big stressor that could portend a tough future for fishes and amphibians.

The study was also able to put a number on the give-and-take of economic and ecological considerations. For example, under a "business as usual" scenario where policies remain as they are today, 34 percent of watersheds are expected to be impacted by urban development while, in an "urban containment" scenario, only 13 percent of watersheds would be affected as the spread of urban areas is minimized.

"At a minimum, we hope this can help policy makers or planners think about ways we could minimize the impact from future land development," says Stephanie Januchowski-Hartley, from UW-Madison's Center for Limnology and a contributing author of the paper. "If a certain amount [of urban development or crop cover] is going to push 10 or 20 percent of freshwater ecosystems beyond a healthy threshold, then we, as a society, have to start asking ourselves if that is something that we're all willing to live with."

###

Sponsored by

TODAY'S HEADLINES

New USGS publications unveil historical hydraulic fracturing trends and data

The U.S. Geological Survey has announced that two new publications highlighting historical hydraulic fracturing trends and data from 1947 to 2010 are now available.

Contegra Construction to expand, renovate Illinois WTP in $7.9M project

Contegra Construction has been selected to renovate and expand the water treatment plant that serves the city of Roxana, Ill.

American Rivers reports 72 dam removals for 2014, sets goal to 75 for 2015

According to new information from American Rivers, communities in 19 states removed 72 dams in 2014, restoring more than 730 miles of streams for the benefit of fish, wildlife, and people. This year, the organization is setting a goal of 75 dam removals.

EPA awarding $1M in grants to help protect, restore vital U.S. wetlands

The Environmental Protection Agency has announced that it will soon award $1 million in grants to strengthen the capacity of states and tribes to protect and restore vital wetlands across the nation.  

FOLLOW US ON SOCIAL MEDIA