Freshwater ecosystems

Freshwater ecosystems offer an especially rich diversity of habitat conditions, plants and animal species. Whether forest ponds, mountain rivers or large lakes – the role of interactions between organisms that live there differ according to the type of water body involved. We explore these complex processes and interactions, including primary production, evolution, food webs, and interactions between parasites and their host.

However, ecosystems are not only habitats – humans also use them for resources, and they are being influenced and shaped by us to an ever-greater extent. For this reason, we consider humans and ecosystems within an integrated approach, rather than in isolation. For which services do we use ecosystems, and how can these be quantified? We hope that answers to questions such as these will give us a deeper understanding of ecosystems and what they signify to humans.

Selected publications

July 2023
Scientific Data. - 10(2023) Art. 494

Flow dynamics in rivers with riffle-pool morphology: a dataset from case studies and field experiments

Oleksandra O. Shumilova; Alexander N. Sukhodolov

Riffle-pool sequences provide vital ecological services to aquatic organisms and are considered fundamental habitats in fluvial ecosystems. Little is known about riffle-pool hydrodynamics. The study presents a dataset on turbulent flow structure in riffle-pool sequences of a natural river,  the Tagliamento River in Italy.

June 2023
Diversity and Distributions. - XX(2023)XX, XX

The European freshwater landscape and hotspot areas of mass effects and regional connectivity

David Cunillera-Montcusí; Jordi Bou; Thomas Mehner; Sandra Brucet; Matías Arim; Ana I. Borthagaray

The authors detected great concentrations of source hotspots on the northern regions associated to lentic ecosystems, main European rivers acting as ecological corridors for all freshwaters, and a mixed distribution of connectivity hotspots in southern and Mediterranean ecoregions.

June 2023
Journal of Environmental Management. - 342(2023), Art. 118298

Socio-economic or environmental benefits from pondscapes? Deriving stakeholder preferences using analytic hierarchy process and compositional data analysis

Hoang-Tien Vo; Maria Vrachioli; Fabian Frick; Johannes Sauer; Sandra Brucet Balmana; Lluís Benejam Vidal; Thomas Mehner; Pieter Lemmens; Beat Oertli; Aurelie Boissezon; Meryem Beklioglu; Antoine Dolcerocca; Mariana Meerhoff

The authors studied the needs and knowledge of stakeholders who own, work, research, or benefit from pondscapes in 8 countries. Using the analytic hierarchy process, this study shows that in general stakeholders in the European and Turkish demo-sites prefer environmental benefits, while stakeholders in the Uruguayan demo-sites rank the economic benefits higher.

November 2022
Global Biogeochemical Cycles. - 36(2022)3

Global patterns and controls of nutrient immobilization on decomposing cellulose in riverine ecosystems

David M. Costello ; Scott D. Tiegs ; Luz Boyero ; Cristina Canhoto ; Krista A. Capps ; Michael Danger ; Paul C. Frost ; Mark O. Gessner ; Natalie A. Griffiths ; Halvor M. Halvorson ; Kevin A. Kuehn ; Amy M. Marcarelli ; Todd V. Royer ; Devan M. Mathie ; Ricardo J. Albariño ; Clay P. Arango ; Jukka Aroviita ; Colden V. Baxter ; Brent J. Bellinger ; Andreas Bruder ; Francis J. Burdon ; Marcos Callisto ; Antonio Camacho ; Fanny Colas ; Julien Cornut ; Verónica Crespo-Pérez ; Wyatt F. Cross ; Alison M. Derry ; Michael M. Douglas ; Arturo Elosegi ; Elvira de Eyto ; Verónica Ferreira ; Carmen Ferriol ; Tadeusz Fleituch ; Jennifer J. Follstad Shah ; André Frainer ; Erica A. Garcia ; Liliana García ; Pavel E. García ; Darren P. Giling ; R. Karina Gonzales-Pomar ; Manuel A.S. Graça ; Hans-Peter Grossart ; François Guérold ; Luiz U. Hepp ; Scott N. Higgins ; Takuo Hishi ; Carlos Iñiguez-Armijos ; Tomoya Iwata ; Andrea E. Kirkwood ; Aaron A. Koning ; Sarian Kosten ; Hjalmar Laudon ; Peter R. Leavitt ; Aurea L. Lemes da Silva ; Shawn J. Leroux ; Carri J. LeRoy ; Peter J. Lisi ; Frank O. Masese ; Peter B. McIntyre ; Brendan G. McKie ; Adriana O. Medeiros ; Marko Miliša ; Yo Miyake ; Robert J. Mooney ; Timo Muotka ; Jorge Nimptsch ; Riku Paavola ; Isabel Pardo ; Ivan Y. Parnikoza ; Christopher J. Patrick ; Edwin T.H.M. Peeters ; Jesus Pozo ; Brian Reid ; John S. Richardson ; José Rincón ; Geta Risnoveanu ; Christopher T. Robinson ; Anna C. Santamans ; Gelas M. Simiyu ; Agnija Skuja ; Jerzy Smykla ; Ryan A. Sponseller ; Franco Teixeira-de Mello ; Sirje Vilbaste ; Verónica D. Villanueva ; Jackson R. Webster ; Stefan Woelfl ; Marguerite A. Xenopoulos ; Adam G. Yates ; Catherine M. Yule ; Yixin Zhang ; Jacob A. Zwart

The research team used a standardized, low-nutrient organic matter substrate (cotton strips) to quantify nutrient immobilization at 100 paired stream and riparian sites representing 11 biomes worldwide. Immobilization rates varied by three orders of magnitude, were greater in rivers than riparian zones, and were strongly correlated to decomposition rates. 

November 2022
Limnology and Oceanography Letters. - XX(20XX)XX, XX

Environmental variability in aquatic ecosystems: avenues for future multifactorial experiments

Miriam Gerhard ... Stella A. Berger ... Jens C. Nejstgaard ...

Variability is inherent to all natural ecosystems, yet the consequences of alterations to existing variability patterns in environmental factors expected under global change scenarios remain unclear. The authors identified sources of mismatches, challenges, and knowledge gaps to contribute to a research agenda on the effects of variability in aquatic systems. T

Related Projects

Contact person
Martin Pusch
Christian Wolter
Sonja Jähnig
Thomas Mehner
(Dept. 1) Ecohydrology and Biogeochemistry
(Dept. 2) Community and Ecosystem Ecology
(Dept. 3) Plankton and Microbial Ecology
(Dept. 4) Fish Biology, Fisheries and Aquaculture
(Dept. 5) Evolutionary and Integrative Ecology

Related Downloads

Outlines | IGB Dossier: Small standing water bodies as biodiversity hotspots – particularly valuable, but highly endangered

Small standing waters are overlooked and underestimated because of their small size – yet they account for more than 30 percent of the world's inland water bodies and are of great ecological and social importance. In order to raise awareness of this problem and to point out options for action for policymakers, authorities and the civil society, IGB has published an IGB Dossier on this important type of water body. 

EU Consultation: IGB feedback on Nutrient Action Plan

Based on its research and expertise, IGB commented on the EU Consultation “Nutrients – Action plan for better management”. While the scientific advice focuses on the impact of nutrient emissions on freshwater ecosystems, the IGB scientists underlined that aquatic systems are also closely linked to their terrestrial surrounding.

Experts at IGB

Sabine Hilt

Research Group Leader
Research group
Aquatic-Terrestrial Coupling and Regime Shifts

Sonja Jähnig

Head of Department
Research group
Aquatic Ecogeography

Jan Köhler

Head of Department (a.i.)
Research group
Photosynthesis and Growth of Phytoplankton and Macrophytes

Thomas Mehner

Research group
Food Web Ecology and Fish Communities

Justyna Wolinska

Programme Area Speaker
Research group
Disease Evolutionary Ecology

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