FWF stand-alone project “The role of fatty acids in changing alpine stream ecosystems”

This granted research project led by Georg H. Niedrist aims to quantify the availability and production of nutritious fatty acids in alpine stream food webs, to identify effects on higher trophic levels, and to predict climate-change effects (deglaciation and warming) on the overall nutritional quality of this type of headwaters
FWF-Projekt Niedrist
Bild: Depending on the degree of glaciation, the composition of the periphyton and probably also its production of essential fatty acids differs. Since food quality is generally considered to be important for survival and performance of higher trophic levels in running water ecology, this is also being checked for the first time in glacier-fed river networks (Credit: G.H. Niedrist)

Shrinking glaciers and warming affect the ecology of glacier-fed rivers. But while consequences for individual levels of alpine stream food webs have been assessed, dependencies between them and cascading effects of abiotic conditions on invertebrates’ performance through the influence on primary producers and their nutritional quality remain poorly quantified. In firstly considering the variability of essential fatty acids in alpine stream ecology, this project will yield critical data on how producers and consumers depend on each other in these harsh environments.

To untangle this role of essential fatty acids for alpine stream ecology and to model future changes related to expected climate-related changes, a combination of classical limnology, taxonomy, molecular biology, and biochemistry techniques will be applied in the planned ecosystem and experimental approaches. A set of known glacial streams is used as natural laboratory and the main questions are the following: Are there predictable patterns in phytobenthic community composition and the availability of essential fatty acids for invertebrate grazers in alpine streams? How are community structure and ecosystem production related to fatty acid availability and how will that be affected during climate-change effects?

Overall, this project will firstly bring alpine stream ecology to the concept of food quality in aquatic ecosystems, refine impact assessments of climate change in mountain ecosystems, and in doing so, improve natural resource management strategies. Since the outcomes of this collaborative project (with Leopold Füreder, University of Innsbruck, and Martin Kainz, WasserCluster Lunz) will be relevant for adapting Alpine river management to current and predicted climatic changes (e.g., fishery), the project updates are made available via the webpage or simplified leaflets.


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