Members of the Ecology and Biodiversity of Aquatic Systems research group at the University of Jaén (UJA) (Spain) have studied the role of the zooplankton community in the evaluation of the effects caused by land uses on Mediterranean wetlands.

Zooplankton is an essential component in the biodiversity of wetlands, especially in the Mediterranean region, where it often acts as a key community, whose elimination can engender dramatic changes in the structure and functioning of the aquatic ecosystem.

“One of the features of the temporary ecosystems is that they revive after each drying event. The zooplanktonic community has a lot to do with that ability to recover the whole system, “explains Gema Parra, a researcher in the Department of Animal Biology, Plant Biology and Ecology at the UJA.

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In a study, published in Hydrobiology, scientists have examined the characteristics of 24 wetlands in the province of Jaén located in the Upper Guadalquivir region based on 11 variables related to its morphology, its river basin and the most common land uses. in each zone, being the majority the olive grove. In this way, they have established two types of wetlands according to the richness of the localized zooplankton species: the impacted and the non-impacted wetlands.

“Wetlands are immersed islands within a context with which they interact, which in our province is fundamentally agricultural. This activity induces a drastic transformation of the landscape, with a high rate of loss and degradation of these ecosystems, “says Francisco Guerrero, Professor of Ecology at the UJA and responsible for the research group.

“This hypothesis has been proven in this work from which it is extracted that the zooplanktonic community that inhabits the wetlands (gilliopods and copepods) suffer drastic alterations due to the agricultural practices carried out in the watershed,” he adds.

In their analysis, they detected seven non-impacted wetlands (Ardal, Castillo, Orcera, Pedernoso, Perales, Santisteban, and Siles), in which the species richness of zooplankton is higher, while in the impacted species the species diminish and even disappear and the capacity of ecosystem recovery is damaged.

Image result for land use in wetlands

According to this finding, the researchers point to the zooplankton community as an appropriate indicator to assess the effects of agriculture on the environment and they bet that it be considered as a biological element of quality, something that is not yet established in the European Water Framework Directive.

“It is a priority to replace the strategies of traditional agriculture with others that are more respectful of wetlands and their species. To do this, we must reach all those involved in legislative decision making to bet on alternative agricultural practices with land management, “says Parra.

That ecosystemic vision has its influence even on global climate change. “Factors such as the decrease in rainfall, the increase in temperatures or the contamination of aquifers affect the hydroperiod of wetlands in the medium and long term and, therefore, influence their conservation,” says Francisco Guerrero.