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A EUROpean training and research network for environmental FLOW management in river basins

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - EUROFLOW (A EUROpean training and research network for environmental FLOW management in river basins)

Reporting period: 2017-09-01 to 2019-08-31

The regulation of river flows is one of the biggest stressors affecting river ecosystems across the world. In many westernised countries, major legislative efforts are therefore underpinning the development of new approaches to mitigate the impacts of river flow regulation. These approaches are based on optimising the management of river flows to maintain services to humans (e.g. water supply, hydropower) whilst protecting and/or rejuvenating the aquatic environment with water of adequate quantity and quality in space and time (i.e. environmental flows, aka e-flows). In this context, a field of applied aquatic science has developed to generate an evidence base for the best ways to manage the quantity, quality and patterns of e-flows to sustain river ecosystems. Euro-FLOW is training researchers to be future leaders in the science, business and policy of this field.

The objectives of Euro-FLOW are:
- to develop new theoretical and empirical insights to inform the management of water flows and aquatic ecosystems in river basins.
- develop future research leaders through advanced training in: (i) river ecosystem science, (ii) transferable scientific and life skills, and (iii) collaborative working with international and inter-sectoral networking.
- progress the field of e-flow science and management intellectually by establishing work on 15 linked projects, catalysing communications amongst 23 institutions (and beyond to their wider networks), and enabling intellectual cross-fertilisation both during the project and into the future.
15 ESRs were recruited between Q1-3, 2018. All deliverables have been submitted and all expected milestones completed to date. ESRs have begun to develop novel scientific understanding for the e-flows field via four inter-related scientific work-packages: (i) abiotic environment dynamics, (ii) aquatic biodiversity, (iii) ecosystem processes and (iv) developing models to underpin socio-economic and policy decision making, integrating information from i-iii.

ESRs have participated in four advanced training courses in IT, UK, CH and DE. Two further events are planned for 2020. These innovative bespoke training sessions strongly complement project specific training plans.

Key achievements from the project:
- A new meta-data compilation for environmental flow science brings together >160 datasets, with details of their constituent variables, space/time-scales, and ownership details, to underpin the development of new comparative studies that build on substantial prior investments by the beneficiaries, project partners and external groups.
- Multiple major new field datasets are being collected, including new remotely sensed geomorphological data from drones, high-resolution in-situ dataloggers, and biodiversity samples to enhance knowledge of organisms at every level of aquatic food webs.
- Collaborative field experiments have been undertaken twice in CH (2018/2019), several ESRs are collaborating at the BHAM experimental facility, and all students have identified linkages between their projects to underpin future collaborative outputs.
- Initiation of a whole consortium, Europe-wide modelling study to better understand the potential for using e-flows as a tool to improve river water quality. This has also allowed Euro-FLOW members to also build new linkages with scientists from three institutes outside of the formal Euro-FLOW partners network.
- We are utilising new modelling advances (Soil and Water Assessment Tool (SWAT+) in collaboration between ESR14 (Wittekind), UFZ and the developers, to simulate the impact of climate change and land management on e-flow.
- Manuscripts for papers have been written by ESR12 (Owusu), ESR 15 (Derepasko) and ESR1 (Hashemi) for planned submissions to journals in late 2019
- We have attracted three new project partners to the network. The Ben Gurion University and the University of Venice joined to host secondments, and Innsbruck University joined as a partner organisation to supervise ESR5.
The 15 ESRs will capitalise on our recent advances to move forward the research field, and our experiences will ensure the ESRs are trained to use the best available methods and experimental design available, with respect to the following:
i. the identification of generalities in flow experiment-biodiversity responses. Our global meta-analyses of e-flow experiments have shown a clear need for research on components of flow other than magnitude, more studies on groups other than fish and invertebrates, and standardisation of study designs, monitoring methods and data analysis.
ii. Euro-FLOW researchers are examining the concept of designer river flows to address the differentiation in restoration objectives, between 'natural' and 'heavily modified' water bodies. We focus on situations where disproportionately high costs mean a return to natural flow conditions is unfeasible. The clear need by regulators, policy makers and ultimately practitioners for evidence to underpin designed river flow regimes is a central theme of the Euro-FLOW project.
iii. Group members have been at the forefront of applying emerging molecular techniques to environmental science problems which will allow us to address the major lack of studies of microbial community structural and functional responses to e-flows. High resolution mass spectrometric techniques like FT-ICR-MS yield unprecedented detail about molecular diversity of dissolved organic matter, and state-of-the art metabarcoding techniques allow the efficient identification of diverse microbial taxa.
iv. We have led studies that significantly enhanced understanding of food web responses to extreme high and low flow situations, including the use of experimental flow manipulation in mesocosms. These will be used to understand broad implications of managing e-flows for whole river ecosystems.
v. members have expertise developing models to improve the simulation of groundwater and river flow exchanges, as well as geomorphology systems to characterize hydromorphology and natural sediment regimes alongside flows.
vi. members have led efforts to quantify water-related ecosystem services and identify trade-offs among water use, ecosystems, human welfare and economics. For regions dominated by agriculture and water abstraction, land-use strategies that support different landscape functions and services need to be explored.
vii. members represent a wide range of academic backgrounds using different approaches and methods and career stages. This exposes ESRs to interdisciplinary skill sets, knowledge and experience.
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