The biodiversity of our rivers, lakes, and ponds has gone largely un-addressed in our efforts to predict the impacts of land development. Planners look at increased runoff and the potential for downstream flooding, and on pollutant discharges and contamination issues. The biodiversity of freshwater bodies is also impacted buy development and agricultural activities, but until now, there was no good way to predict what the impacts might be of land use changes.
A team of UW-Madison researchers is hoping to help change that narrative and add a little ecology to 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. "We are not trying to predict the 'true' future, but rather to visualize potential economic trends and their environmental consequences."
Martinuzzi, who works in 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.
Graphics show impacts of various scenarios of land development on a national basis. Credit Universtiy of Wisconsin-Madison.
Read more at University of Wisconsin.