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Web Ecology An open-access peer-reviewed journal
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Volume 3, issue 1
Web Ecol., 3, 56–69, 2002
© Author(s) 2002. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License.
Web Ecol., 3, 56–69, 2002
© Author(s) 2002. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License.

  16 Jul 2002

16 Jul 2002

Qualitative models to predict impacts of human interventions in a wetland ecosystem

S. Loiselle1, V. Hull2, E. Permingeat3, M. Falucci2, and C. Rossi1 S. Loiselle et al.
  • 1Dipartimento di Scienze Chimiche e dei Biosistemi, Univ. Degli Studi di Siena, via Aldo Moro, 53100 Siena, Italy
  • 2Laboratorio Centrale di Idrobiologia, Ministero per le Politiche Agricole, Via Caravaggio 107, 00147 Roma, Italy
  • 3CIDET, Universidad Nacional de Misiones, Rivadavia 2370–3300, Posadas, Argentina

Abstract. The large shallow wetlands that dominate much of the South American continent are rich in biodiversity and complexity. Many of these undamaged ecosystems are presently being examined for their potential economic utility, putting pressure on local authorities and the conservation community to find ways of correctly utilising the available natural resources without compromising the ecosystem functioning and overall integrity. Contrary to many northern hemisphere ecosystems, there have been little long term ecological studies of these systems, leading to a lack of quantitative data on which to construct ecological or resource use models. As a result, decision makers, even well meaning ones, have difficulty in determining if particular economic activities can potentially cause significant damage to the ecosystem and how one should go about monitoring the impacts of such activities. While the direct impact of many activities is often known, the secondary indirect impacts are usually less clear and can depend on local ecological conditions.

The use of qualitative models is a helpful tool to highlight potential feedback mechanisms and secondary effects of management action on ecosystem integrity. The harvesting of a single, apparently abundant, species can have indirect secondary effects on key trophic and abiotic compartments. In this paper, loop model analysis is used to qualitatively examine secondary effects of potential economic activities in a large wetland area in northeast Argentina, the Esteros del Ibera. Based on interaction with local actors together with observed ecological information, loop models were constructed to reflect relationships between biotic and abiotic compartments. A series of analyses were made to study the effect of different economic scenarios on key ecosystem compartments. Important impacts on key biotic compartments (phytoplankton, zooplankton, ichthyofauna, aquatic macrophytes) and on the abiotic environment (nutrients and sediment resuspension) were observed through model analysis. These models results do not indicate a definite relationship between activity and a possible impact, but a potential impact that can be further studied and modelled. Likewise, the model is not intended to be an end in itself, but as a tool to help focus further ecological study, monitoring and modelling. In the real world of wetland management, it is not always possible to conduct extensive (and expensive) analysis of all the principal ecological compartments. In the same manner, the construction of larger and more complex models for resource management usually needs to be focused to those areas most likely to effect resource quality or ecosystem functioning. In this light, the development of qualitative models was considered as a first step to help researchers and decision makers focus their efforts (and economic resources) in an intensive ecological sampling programme and the construction of predictive models.

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