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Keywords:

  • climate change;
  • ecosystems;
  • lakes;
  • pollution;
  • streams;
  • wetlands

Summary

1. The fundamental importance of freshwater resources, the rapid extinction rate among freshwater species and the pronounced sensitivity of freshwater ecosystems to climate change together signal a pre-eminent need for renewed scientific focus and greater resources. Against this background, the Freshwater Biological Association in 2008 launched a new series of ‘summit’ Conferences in Aquatic Biology intended to develop and showcase the application of ecological science to major issues in freshwater management.

2. This collection of studies arose from the first summit entitled ‘Multiple Stressors in Freshwater Ecosystems’. Although freshwater science and management are replete with mutiple-stressor problems, few studies have been designed explicitly to untangle their effects.

3. The individual case studies that follow reveal the wide array of freshwaters affected by multiple stressors, the spatial and temporal scales involved, the species and ecosystem processes affected, the complex interactions between ecology and socioeconomics that engender such effects, the approaches advocated to address the problems and the challenges of restoring affected systems. The studies also illustrate the extent to which new challenges are emerging (e.g. through climate change), but also they develop a vision of how freshwaters might be managed sustainably to offset multiple stressors in future.

4. More generically, these case studies illustrate (i) how freshwaters might be at particular risk of multiple-stressor effects because of conflicts in water use, and because the hydrological cycle vectors stressor effects so effectively and so extensively; (ii) that dramatic, nonlinear, ‘ecological surprises’ sometimes emerge as multiple-stressor effects develop and (iii) that good ecology and good ecologists add considerable value to other freshwater disciplines in understanding multiple stressors and managing their effects.