Biology Professor Examines River Ecology On A Global Scale

Oakland University (OU) ecologist Scott Tiegs is the lead author of a new scientific paper examining carbon-cycling rates of river-based ecosystems around the world.

Image of a small river surrounded by grassy terrain

Biology Professor Examines River Ecology On A Global Scale

Published in the journal Science Advances, the paper is based on the work of 153 researchers in 40 countries. The study found that climatic factors, such as temperature and moisture, influenced carbon-cycling rates of river-based ecosystems. Carbon cycling is critical for the functioning of systems across a range of spatial scales, from local food webs to the global climate.

“River ecosystems play significant roles in the global carbon cycle by regulating rates of decomposition and transporting organic matter to the oceans, but we have only a rudimentary understanding of how decomposition rates vary from river to river,” Tiegs said.

Unlike most previous studies on carbon cycling in streams and rivers, the methodology in this study was identical across all field sites. With support from the Office of the Provost, the Research Office, the College of Arts and Sciences and the Department of Biological Sciences at Oakland University, Tiegs helped develop a standardized, easy-to-use bioassay, which enabled a large number of researchers to participate in the study.

Professor Scott Tiegs poses for a photo with grassy terrain behind him

Professor Scott Tiegs in Iceland

“As a result, we were able to quantify decomposition rates in over 500 rivers across the globe, including every continent,” Tiegs said.

The paper noted that the climactic factors that govern decomposition rates are increasingly impacted by human activities. These findings will help researchers establish baselines to quantify environmental impacts to the functioning of ecosystems on a global scale.

“In addition to providing fundamental information on how river ecosystems function, our results provide baseline data that will enable future researchers to evaluate large-scale ecological responses to warming and other dimensions of global climate change,” said Tiegs.

The research was sponsored by the Ecuadorian Science Foundation. Additionally, OU professors David Szlag (Environmental Chemistry), Mark Isken (Management Information Systems) and recent OU graduate Diana Ethaiya (Biology) participated in the research for OU and are co-authors on the article.

Read the article: Global Patterns and Drivers of Ecosystem Functioning in Rivers and Riparian Zones

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