The proposal hinges on the noteworthy scientific perspectives provided by ecohydrological studies of river basins,seen as a natural laboratory for complex system perspectives integrating hydrologic, ecological and geomorphological dynamics. Moving from morphological and functional analyses of dendritic geometries observed in Nature over a wide range of scales,my claim is that essential processes sustaining human life and societies taking place along dendritic structures can be predicted. Population migrations and human settlements historically proceeded along river networks to follow water supply routes. Riparian systems,critically important ecosystems positioned along streams and rivers, play crucial roles in their watersheds,including nutrient filtering, biogeochemical processing,shade and resource provisioning, and stream bank stabilization. Devastating water-borne disease,such as cholera, and invading foreign species spread through water bodies linked by river networks. Although the dynamics of such systems has been extensively studied, existing approaches were mostly within the framework of mean-field or two-dimensional landscapes that ignore directionality of dispersal implied by the network acting as environmental matrix. How does connectivity within a a river network affect the emergent spreading of water-borne infections? Does the river basin act as a template for biodiversity? Are there hydrologic controls on the spreading of water-borne disease? To answer such questions, the present proposal addresses the study of biodiversity in the river basin (freshwater fish and riparian vegetation); cholera dynamics and zebra mussel invasions along river networks. Observational data and theoretical models, in a comparative mode,will be analyzed within a unified theoretical framework.This is intended to prove of crucial interest for understanding the functioning of river basins as a whole,including its ecosystem structure and function.
Fields of science
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