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UCL Home  /  Geography  /  Blog  /  Blog Entries  /  Getting a deeper insight into shallow lake biodiversity and ecosystem services

Getting a deeper insight into shallow lake biodiversity and ecosystem services

Posted by ucfaam0 at Jun 06, 2014 09:30 AM |

The Rio Summit of 1992 propelled biodiversity into a global spotlight pointing to tremendous human-induced species losses in the Earth’s ecosystem. Now there is urgent need to advance our knowledge on how and why species disappear from ecosystems and the implications of these losses for important goods and services that we rely on (e.g. drinking water, food, spiritual value). One crucial landscape feature thought to have a major influence on biodiversity is connectivity – how connected are habitats with one another within the landscape. A key issue here is alteration of our natural landscapes via the creation of roads, towns and farmland. Under such circumstances natural habitats become isolated and degraded which impedes the dispersal of native species. Ease of dispersal across the landscape seems to be a key feature that reduces rates of species loss in human-affected ecosystems thus preserving high biodiversity and valuable (monetary and cultural values) ecosystem services.

Lakes are uniquely useful for examining questions about biodiversity, connectivity and ecosystem services as they permit long-term (over centuries) changes in biodiversity to be studied through the analysis of fossil remains in sediment cores. The majority of aquatic organisms (e.g. algae, plants, invertebrates) leave identifiable parts in sediments, which can be dated to reveal a history of ecological change.

Hotspot lakes

Lakes are hotspots of recreational activities for those who enjoy the outdoors. However, little is known about how activities such as boating and angling are related to biodiversity and ecosystem health. [Photo by Ben Goldsmith]

The Lake BESS project, led by the Environmental Change Research Centre at UCL Geography, is focussed on biodiversity and ecosystem services in two lake districts: the Broads in East Anglia and the Upper Lough Erne area in Northern Ireland. The work forms part of a wider research programme on Biodiversity, Ecosystem Services and Sustainability (BESS) funded by the UK Natural Environment Research Council.

We are looking into how biodiversity regulates ecological balance within lakes and would like to assess the consequences of biodiversity loss for the provision of ecosystem services. Ecosystem services from lakes are extremely diverse: recreation, tourism, water purification, flood prevention, provision of fish for anglers and fisheries and other supporting services such as carbon storage for climate mitigation. Because of this variety, changes in lake ecological functioning in response to pollution may affect the different services in different ways, rendering best practices for restoration and management difficult to establish.

One aspect we are particularly interested to develop with Lake BESS is the importance of ecological connectivity between lakes for their biodiversity. Connectivity may be a major factor determining lake ecosystem resilience because it counter-balances the negative effect of local extinction by increasing species re-colonisation. Another aspect of interest is the consequences of biological invasions by organisms such as zebra mussels and Canadian pondweed.

Zebra mussels

Zebra mussel is an invasive mussel that was first observed in Ireland in 1997 but is now becoming widespread. It can use native mussel shells as substrate, as shown on this photograph. One aim of our project is to quantify the impact of this invasion with respect to biodiversity and ecosystem services. [Photo by Jorge Salgado]

Our team is composed of Carl Sayer, Helen Bennion, Jorge Salgado and Ambroise Baker at UCL, Tom Davidson at the University of Aarhus (Denmark), Beth Okamura at the Natural History Museum and Nigel Willby at Stirling University. We are looking forward to a field campaign this summer and to presenting the result of our work to the numerous stakeholders in both lake districts. A new blog and project website for Lake BESS has been launched:, which is designed to engage with a broad audience so that our research will be widely disseminated and make a real difference to all stakeholders in The Broads and the Upper Lough Erne Region. Please follow our updates and get in touch if you have any comments or insights on our project, either through the website or directly by email.


Botanical biodiversity is going to be surveyed from boats using a bathyscope. [Photo by Ben Goldsmith]

Ambroise Baker is a postdoctoral researcher at UCL Geography with an interest in promoting biodiversity in human-dominated landscapes and in all aspects of botany. More details of his research and interests can be found here.