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Researchers introduce a macrosystems approach to study stream ecology

Scientists and collaborators have developed a new method for studying a variety of streams -- including tropical, prairie or forested streams -- across continents

University of Chicago Press Journals

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IMAGE: Walter Dodds, university distinguished professor of biology, is leading a research team in creating the Stream Biome Gradient Concept, which is a way to compare streams in different climates and... view more

Credit: David Mayes, KSU DCM Photographic Services

Kansas State University scientists and collaborators have developed a new method for studying a variety of streams--including tropical, prairie or forested streams--across continents.

Walter Dodds, university distinguished professor of biology, has led the researchers in creating the Stream Biome Gradient Concept, which is a way to compare streams in different climates and different continents. The concept can improve how researchers study streams worldwide.

"This model will help us understand how to regulate and conserve streams and protect water quality," Dodds said. "It's important to think in broad terms and in the context that people, plants and animals interact with streams. Understanding biodiversity is crucial."

The researchers have introduced the Stream Biome Gradient Concept in the Freshwater Science article "The Stream Biome Gradient Concept: factors controlling lotic systems across broad biogeographic scales".

Other Kansas State University researchers involved include Keith Gido, professor of biology, and Bartosz Grudzinski, visiting assistant professor of geography. Other researchers include Melinda Daniels, an adjunct professor of geography at Kansas State University and associate research scientist at the Stroud Water Research Center in Pennsylvania; and Matt Whiles, professor of zoology at Southern Illinois University.

All of the researchers have studied grassland streams, which share characteristics with other desert and forested streams. They developed the Stream Biome Gradient Concept to take a macrosystems ecology approach, which involves viewing systems on a continental or national scale.

"This concept is important because most previous research has involved temperate, forested streams," Dodds said. "We don't know exactly how that applies to streams in other areas, such as tropical, desert, prairie or tundra streams."

The Stream Biome Gradient Concept can help develop hypotheses to test at STREON sites. STREON--or STReam Experimental Observatory Network--is a 10-year experiment at ten different aquatic stream sites in a variety of ecosystems. STREON is part of the National Science Foundation-funded National Ecological Observatory Network, or NEON.

"We're hopeful that this work will help people develop a broader and more comprehensive view of the way that stream ecosystems function," Dodds said. "Stream research is getting more mature and focused on large-scale questions. It's a natural progression to think in the largest possible terms and link our conceptual research to a scale where people interact with aquatic habitats."

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The researchers received funding support from the National Science Foundation, the Konza Long-Term Ecological Research program and the International Grasslands Center.

W.K. Dodds, K. Gido, M.R. Whiles, M.D. Daniels, and B.P. Grudzinski, "The Stream Biome Gradient Concept: factors controlling lotic systems across broad biogeographic scales," Freshwater Science 34(1), March 2015, http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1086/679756

Freshwater Science publishes articles that advance understanding and environmental stewardship of all types of inland aquatic ecosystems and ecosystems at the interface between aquatic and terrestrial habitats. The journal regularly features papers on a wide range of topics, including physical, chemical, and biological properties of lentic and lotic habitats; ecosystem processes; structure and dynamics of populations, communities, and ecosystems; ecology, systematics, and genetics of freshwater organisms, from bacteria to vertebrates; linkages between freshwater and other ecosystems and between freshwater ecology and other aquatic sciences; bioassessment, conservation, and restoration; environmental management; and new or novel methods for basic or applied research.

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