Fluvial systems provide critical provisioning (e.g., clean water), regulating (e.g., flood control) and cultural services (e.g., recreation), all essential to human societies. However, the effects of global change are seriously threatening the provisioning of riverine ecosystem services and, thus, human society future development. A major challenge that resource planners face today is managing ecosystems to provide multiple services to societies. In many cases, management for ecosystem services involves trade-offs, such that increasing the supply of one reduces the supply of another. For example, water for irrigation is made possible by massive storage in reservoirs although this may also have serious implications for the provisioning of other ecosystem services (e.g. water quality). Moreover, service trade-offs will also exist between riverine and terrestrial ecosystems. In this case, agriculture may enhance food production but reduce water yield to rivers. Thus, water managers require tools to guide them through complex natural resource decisions that seek to meet multiple objectives (e.g., improve ecological status, low flood risk, and biodiversity conservation).

HYDRA will focus on how river functioning and service provisioning are affected by hydrological alteration (HA) from dam operation and land use changes. These two factors are nowadays the main sources of hydrological alteration worldwide, and they have serious consequences on biodiversity and on the provisioning of ecosystem services generated within the river system. However, the causal links and cascade effects that the HA produce on the impairment of river functioning and on the delivery of basic river services are still not completely understood. Thus, Integrated Catchment Management (ICM) needs to develop new tools and knowledge that allow linking specific stressor effects to ecosystem functioning and service deliver impairment. Only through these enhanced capabilities could the ICM practices account for new challenges in water planning such as global change and increased human population. HYDRA will be developed in the Iberian Peninsula (IP). The IP is the world record holder in number of dams per capita, being the largest water consumer agriculture. In fact, agriculture and agro-forestry, which cause important changes in runoff, are the main landscape transformation activities in the IP.

In order to achieve this, HYDRA proposes a multi-level approach which consists on:

  • Improving digital river networks and their connections to terrestrial systems by using “Virtual Watersheds”.
  • Integrating Virtual Watersheds with the latest ecosystem services technologies (ARIES – Artificial Intelligence for Ecosystem Services).
  • Incorporating an analytical framework in which the effects of HA could be evaluated at different levels of biological organization using traditional biodiversity metrics and a set of new generation metrics (from genes to ecosystem functioning).

Thus, HYDRA will support greater predictive capabilities to forecast the effects of dam operation and land use changes on river ecosystem processes and will contribute to multi-disciplinary innovation in freshwater science to inform catchment management and policy development. These advances will bring fresh and new opportunities within the water management and business sector.