Land use changes, such as deforestation, and intensive agricultural practices are two of the greatest drivers of biodiversity loss, and while human activities have been changing the face of the earth pretty much since we set foot upon it, the current speed and intensity of change are not giving nature the time it needs to regenerate itself.
On one side the importance of biodiversity in protecting us against disease, pests, crop failures and food shortages, and in making us more resilient against the effects of climate change and water scarcity is generally accepted; on the other intensive agricultural mono-cropping, overfishing and growing carbon emissions leading to marine biodiversity decline are nevertheless worrying trends.
Within the European freshwater realm, water resources and ecosystems are exposed to a number of different stressors, such as pollution, heating, the building of dams and channels, water extraction for agriculture and power generation. (You can read more about these stressors in this report by the European Environment Agency)
Such activities interfere with the life of those organisms that live in rivers and lakes, and who carry out vital services such as the provision of clean water and fish.
MARS, short for Managing Acquatic ecosystems and water Resources under multiple Stress, is an EU-funded research project which brings together research institutes from across Europe and which, through field experiments, simulations and modelling, looks at precisely these multiple stresses, their effects on surface waters and groundwater, and on the living organisms inhabiting them.
Its river experiments for example address water scarcity and flows, combined with different water temperatures, habitat conditions and nutrient levels, while its lake experiments may look at the effects of extreme rain or heat events in combination with nutrient enrichment, such as potassium, nitrogen and phosphorous.
Within MARS' aims is also the development of tools to better capture and assess both the ecosystem services and the interferences they are exposed to.
Its research scope may not appeal to the masses. Analysing what a dam does to the life of a fungus in a nearby river may not sound as exciting as efforts to protect big cats or rhinos or polar bears. Yet the effects of a dam on diminishing the fungi population, and its leaf-decomposing action, in an upstream reservoir for example, is shown to have important repercussions on the water quality, health and functions of downstream ecosystems, including the availability of nutrient matter for the fish that we eat.
Sexy work it ain't, but MARS work is vital. You can watch MARS' introductory video here: