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Ecohydrological interfaces as critical hotspots for transformations of ecosystem exchange fluxes and biogeochemical cycling

Final Report Summary - INTERFACES (Ecohydrological interfaces as critical hotspots for transformations of ecosystem exchange fluxes and biogeochemical cycling)

The INTERFACES EU-FP7-ITN project on “Ecohydrological interfaces as critical hotspots for transformations of ecosystem exchange fluxes and biogeochemical cycling” aimed to:
• Enhance capacities for multi-scale monitoring and modelling
• Improve conceptual understanding of interface process dynamics
• Understand the landscape-wide consequences of ecohydrological interface functions
• Improve ecohydrological interface functioning and resilience

Following this research aims and objectives, the project successfully transformed interdisciplinary research at the forefront of ecological, hydrological and biogeochemical sciences, studying in a systematic collaborative effort the complex process interaction of water, energy and matter fluxes across different ecohydrological interfaces (Figure 1). As a major intellectual achievement, the project consortium pioneered a new conceptual model, introducing ecohydrological interfaces as a new concept to support the quantitative analysis of nonlinear system behaviour stimulated by the complex and multifaceted interactions of hydrological, biogeochemical, and ecological processes across system boundaries.
In our recent landmark text (Krause et al., 2017, WRR), the consortium defined Ecohydrological interfaces “as the dynamic transition zones that may develop at ecosystem (or subsystem) boundaries and control the movement and transformation of organisms, water, matter, and energy between adjacent systems”. This new concept allowed us to move research beyond the investigation of stationary boundaries (as separators of different ecosystems or subsystems) or ecotones (boundaries that have a defined thickness and share characteristics with each of the systems they separate), towards the representation and investigation of non-stationary conditions that often are emerging for a limited time and then disappearing, expanding and contracting, or moving around within a boundary or ecotone.
This advancement in ecosystem theory enables interdisciplinary research to study implicitly the impacts of environmental change (climate and landuse) since ecohydrological interfaces are defined by their specific functioning (for example, the dynamic extent of surface water mixing in streambed environments forming hyporheic zones as ecohydrological interfaces with distinct redox environments and ecological niche functions and behaviour). This mechanistically advances substantially the concepts of boundaries and ecotones, which are delineated primarily based on system properties.

The ecohydrological interfaces, their properties, mechanistic processes and complex interactions with other ecosystems under change investigated in the INTERFACES training network span a wide range of spatial and temporal scales and specifically focus on: (i) interface controls on energy fluxes at terrestrial-aquatic interfaces, (ii) interface impacts on water exchange at aquifer-river and lake-groundwater interfaces and (iii) interface drivers for the development of biogeochemical reactivity hotspots at biofilms and hyporheic zones.

The cutting-edge research developed by the INTERFACES early stage (ESR) and experienced (ER) researchers is on the forefront of international science. Key research outcomes of INTERFACES is based on the development of innovative distributed sensing technologies that support the investigation of ecohydrological interface processes at unprecedented spatial and temporal resolution and new types of adaptive models that are designed to integrate new sensor network derived process information to enhance mechanistic process understanding of the development of thermodynamic, metabolic and biogeochemical hotspots at different types of ecohydrological interfaces.
The technological and conceptual advances made in INTERFACES include the development of novel algorithms for the application of sensor technologies such as fibre-optic Distributed Temperature Sensing for real-time soil moisture monitoring, the development of new terrestrial diatom based tracer methods, multi-scale optical real-time in-situ Dissolved Oxygen analysers, the quantification of invertebrate contributions to sediment respiration, the quantification of carbon cycling and greenhouse gas production at aquifer-river interfaces as well as the development of predictive tools for analysis of land management impacts on nutrient cycling in river corridors and river sediments.
In particular in the second phase of INTERFACES, we have specifically focused on implementing many of these novel technologies and methodological approaches into environmental practice in order to support the creation of socio-economic impact, such as for instance the development of multi-stressor analysis tools that have been developed for the prediction of large scale mucilage events affecting bathing water quality and health in the Adriatic Sea or environmental change impacts on invertebrate behavior and at ecohydrological interfaces and subsequent biogeochemical implications.

11 ESRs and 4 ERs received tailored interdisciplinary training in INTERFACES including sensor network design and environmental tracing, monitoring of energy, water and solute fluxes across ecohydrological interfaces, modelling of ecohydrological and biogeochemical processes from point to catchment scale, microbiological and biotechnological methods as well as professional career development advice and training including how to successfully publish and present research results, actively contribute to the peer-review process for publications and research grants and how to stimulate supra-disciplinary research in their future career networks.
The research of the INTERFACES project has been widely disseminated, including 20 scientific publications so far, with another 8 papers forthcoming and >20 publications in process that are expected to be submitted in 2018. In addition to our landmark vision paper on “Ecohydrological interfaces as hot spots of ecosystem processes” (Krause et a., 2017) in the Water Resources Research flagship journal for interdisciplinary hydrological research, our book “Ecohydrological Interfaces” with Wileys-Blackwell as publisher is about to go in production in the 2nd half of 2018. Research results of the INTERFACES project were presented at more than 10 scientific conferences and meetings, including the European Geoscience Union, American Geophysical Union and the HydroEo2017 conference which hosted the final INTERFACES scientific conference in June 2017 in Birmingham.
More information on the INTERFACES project can be found at the project website:
https://www.birmingham.ac.uk/generic/interfaces/index.aspx
Or by emailing the project coordinator, Prof. Stefan Krause under s.krause@bham.ac.uk

Figure 1: Landscape perspective of different types of ecohydrological interfaces with [1] atmosphere-soil interfaces, [2] unsaturated-saturated soil interfaces, [3] riparian-stream interfaces and [4] hyporheic zone interfaces and characteristic profiles of water fluxes, mixing, gas exchange and redox conditions [Eh] (from Krause, S., et al. (2017), Ecohydrological interfaces as hot spots of ecosystem processes, Water Resour. Res., 53, 6359–6376, doi:10.1002/2016WR019516.)