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Cambridge Books Online
Aquatic Ecosystems
Trends and Global Prospects
Edited by Nicholas V. C. Polunin
Book DOI:
Online ISBN: 9780511751790
Hardback ISBN: 9780521833271
Chapter DOI:
Cambridge University Press
Part I
Flowing waters
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Cambridge Books Online Cambridge University Press, 2011
One per cent of the worlds fresh water is held in owing-
water, or lotic, ecosystems and provides essential environ-
mental goods and services to human societies. The rivers
and streams that most people think of in this context are
indeed major sources of water, energy, biological resources
and waste assimilation (Chapter 2). Groundwater aquifers
are often neglected in terms of their environmental services,
yet they contain 30% of the global freshwater reserves, are
major providers of potable and irrigation water, prevent land
subsidence and erosion, control oods through absorption of
runoff, and improve water quality through mechanical and
biochemical water purication (Chapter 3). Flood plains are
not usually considered a separate ecosystem but they are
among the most biologically productive and diverse eco-
systems on Earth, and in the developing world, large human
populations directly benet from them (Chapter 4). Their
seminal role in the origins and history of civilizations and as
foci of current impact are such that they deserve special
consideration. As societal nurseries, ood plains have borne
the brunt of much human demand for resources through
water abstraction, netting, water-course diversion and
damming and for avoidance of major ooding events
through riparian protection and other infrastructure.
Being exploited for domestic and irrigation water supply,
electricity generation, food and waste disposal, lotic eco-
systems are known in many cases to have been heavily
impacted by humans. These owing waters permeate what
in many cases appear at least to be very resilient ecosystems.
Many of the resident species are for example adapted to
oods, requiring high ows and spates to maintain habitats
and essential ecosystem functions. These species and the
underlying food webs may be threatened by a variety of
human ow-calming measures such as damming, while the
implied physical dynamism also offers some hope for
resilience of the system at least to some types of environ-
mental change. However, attempts at a global overview of
lotic ecosystem status are few, and the perceived resilience
belies many instances of ecosystem sensitivity.
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Cambridge Books Online Cambridge University Press, 2011