Increasing water demands for human use, the effects of changing land-use practices on receiving waters, an expanding list of contaminants, and climate change and alteration of global biogeochemical cycles challenge the effective management and protection of aquatic ecosystems. Biological diversity and ecosystem processes of lakes, wetlands, and rivers are increasingly at risk, with the potential degradation of ecosystem goods and services and loss of species. Most prior research has focused on a narrow view of water quality for human use and direct harm to sensitive species. Research under Category XI is directed to understanding aquatic ecosystem management and protection in coupled, complex systems, including studies of long duration and large spatial scale.

  1. Ecosystem and habitat conservation—Research to gain improved understanding of the coupling of hydrologic and ecological processes, such as the ecological outcomes expected from particular flow regimes, hydroperiods, and geochemical conditions. It also includes research into all aspects of aquatic ecosystem structure and function, including water requirements of aquatic and related terrestrial ecosystems, ecosystem response to degradation, procedures for restoration, and response of the biota to management alternatives. Note: Research on restoration strategies may overlap with IV-D, V-G, and VIII-K. The decision as to where to categorize activities should depend on the primary goal (i.e., water quantity control vs. ecosystem restoration).

  2. Aquatic ecosystem assessmentResearch into methods and models to assess the status of aquatic ecosystems, and development of indicators and indices of ecological integrity to identify locations where restoration is appropriate, to provide a means of monitoring long-term trends in ecosystem status, and to quantify trends in improvement or deterioration over time in response to human actions. This subcategory includes efforts to develop metrics of the monetary value of ecosystem services.

  3. Effects of climate changeResearch to determine the complex direct and indirect pathways by which climate change will impact freshwater ecosystems and their biological productivity, including changes in water quantity and quality, biogeochemical cycles, and food webs.

  4. Biogeochemical cyclesResearch to understand and predict the cycles of C, N, P, S and other elements at the global scale; to understand the sources, fluxes, transformations, and fate of these elements; and to understand how humans have affected the global cycling of these elements and the resulting impacts on climate, biological production, and ecosystem processes. Note: Applied research into the local fate and transport of pollutants including nutrients should be reported under V-C.

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