The European Water Framework Directive aims to improve ecological status within river basins. This requires knowledge of responses of aquatic assemblages to recovery processes that occur after measures have been taken to reduce major stressors. A systematic literature review comparatively assesses recovery measures across the four major water categories. The main drivers of degradation stem primarily from human population growth and increases in land use and water use changes. These drivers and pressures are the same in all four water categories: rivers, lakes, transitional and coastal waters. Few studies provide evidence of how ecological knowledge might enhance restoration success. Other major bottlenecks are the lack of data, effects mostly occur only in short-term and at local scale, the organism group(s) selected to assess recovery does not always provide the most appropriate response, the time lags of recovery are highly variable, and most restoration projects incorporate restoration of abiotic conditions and do not include abiotic extremes and biological processes. Restoration ecology is just emerging as a field in aquatic ecology and is a site, time and organism group-specific activity. It is therefore difficult to generalise. Despite the many studies only few provide evidence of how ecological knowledge might enhance restoration success.
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