Ecosystem management along ephemeral rivers: Trading off socio-economic water supply and vegetation conservation under flood regime uncertainty

Arnold, S., Attinger, S., Frank, K., Baxter, P.W.J., Possingham, H., & Hildebrandt, A. (2016) Ecosystem management along ephemeral rivers: Trading off socio-economic water supply and vegetation conservation under flood regime uncertainty. River Research and Applications, 32(3), pp. 219-233.

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Abstract

In ecosystems driven by water availability, plant community dynamics depend on complex interactions between vegetation, hydrology, and human water resources use. Along ephemeral rivers—where water availability is erratic—vegetation and people are particularly vulnerable to changes in each other's water use. Sensible management requires that water supply be maintained for people, while preserving ecosystem health. Meeting such requirements is challenging because of the unpredictable water availability. We applied information gap decision theory to an ecohydrological system model of the Kuiseb River environment in Namibia. Our aim was to identify the robustness of ecosystem and water management strategies to uncertainties in future flood regimes along ephemeral rivers. We evaluated the trade-offs between alternative performance criteria and their robustness to uncertainty to account for both (i) human demands for water supply and (ii) reducing the risk of species extinction caused by water mining. Increasing uncertainty of flood regime parameters reduced the performance under both objectives. Remarkably, the ecological objective (species coexistence) was more sensitive to uncertainty than the water supply objective. However, within each objective, the relative performance of different management strategies was insensitive to uncertainty. The ‘best’ management strategy was one that is tuned to the competitive species interactions in the Kuiseb environment. It regulates the biomass of the strongest competitor and, thus, at the same time decreases transpiration, thereby increasing groundwater storage and reducing pressure on less dominant species. This robust mutually acceptable strategy enables species persistence without markedly reducing the water supply for humans. This study emphasises the utility of ecohydrological models for resource management of water-controlled ecosystems. Although trade-offs were identified between alternative performance criteria and their robustness to uncertain future flood regimes, management strategies were identified that help to secure an ecologically sustainable water supply.

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ID Code: 82418
Item Type: Journal Article
Refereed: Yes
DOI: 10.1002/rra.2853
ISSN: 1535-1459
Divisions: Current > Schools > School of Earth, Environmental & Biological Sciences
Current > QUT Faculties and Divisions > Science & Engineering Faculty
Copyright Owner: Copyright 2014 John Wiley and Sons Inc
Deposited On: 10 Mar 2015 08:14
Last Modified: 28 Apr 2016 01:04

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