Our picks for most influential papers on water in 2016

We asked some of our researchers and students about publications in 2016 they thought were groundbreaking, influential or just really interesting. Their responses covered everything from adaptation in toxic algal species to global maps of water.

Here is what they chose:

Drought rewires the cores of food webs

In Nature Climate Change Lu and colleagues show that while drought induces shifts in species connections, these same shifts may stabilise ecological networks against further perturbations and species loss.

Contributed by Dr Catherine Leigh

High-resolution mapping of global surface water and its long-term changes

An unbelievably detailed time series of changes in surface water over the last 20 years. This will be a standard paper and dataset for the next two decades.

Contributed by Dr Simon Linke

Rapid adaptation of harmful cyanobacteria to rising CO2

Sandrini and colleagues use continuous cultures with five strains of the harmful cyanobacterium Microcystis aeruginosa to show how strain variation can lead to fast adaptation to environmental changes. This paper demonstrates how variation in genotypes and phenotypes of strains leads to highly plastic cyanobacteria populations.
Contributed by Dr Anusuya Willis

Social connections can predict human impacts on the environment

In Social networks and environmental
outcomes Barnes and colleagues use social network analysis of tuna fishers to show that shark by-catch is higher within specific social sub-groups. The study
suggests that information sharing could reduce shark bycatch.
Contributed by Dr Chris Brown

Large overestimation of pCO2 calculated from pH and alkalinity in acidic, organic-rich freshwaters

During the last two decades it has become a truism that many lakes and rivers (especially boreal systems) are super-saturated with CO2.  The paper by Abril suggests some of this apparent super-saturation may be an analytical artifact.  Many papers calculate CO2 super-saturation based on pH and Alkalinity, with the assumption that Alkalinity is solely due to inorganic carbon.  However, in many systems (and especially systems with high concentrations of humic acids), much of the Alkalinity can due to humic acids which act as weak bases at low pH.  Because of this, the inorganic carbon Alkalinity can be greatly overestimated in humic systems, which also leads to over-estimates of CO2 super-saturation.  This paper may necessitate a reassessment of the role that lakes and rivers play in the global green house gas budget.

Contributed by Professor Michael Brett, Visiting professor at ARI from University of Washington

Living shorelines enhance nursery role of modified estuaries

trevally

A paper showing that artificial structures can provide fish habitat in estuaries was among our staff’s picks for top 2016 papers.

In Living shorelines can enhance the nursery role of threatened estuarine habitats, Ecological Applications, a comparison of numerous estuaries with modified shorelines by Gittman and colleagues showed that even estuaries with some hardened shoreline protection can provide effective fish habitat as long as some vegetation is incorporated. This key finding points the way for the many current programs aiming to use ecosystem-based adaptations to conserve ecosystem services in the face of rapid change.

Contributed by Professor Rod Connolly

Bright spots among the world’s coral reefs

I would nominate Bright spots among the world’s coral reefs. It’s refreshing to see there are still some habitats doing better than expected and maybe we can learn from those examples.
Contributed by Tyson Martin, PhD candidate 

Characterising groundwater use by vegetation using a surface energy balance model and satellite observations of land surface temperature

In Environmental Modelling & Software Gow et al. use a model data approach to map the extent of groundwater dependent vegetation. The most exciting part of this paper is that they quantify the frequency and duration of groundwater use, which has not previously been achieved across landscape scales.
Contributed by Brett Parker, PhD Candidate

Body size drives allochthony in food webs of tropical rivers

crocodile

Crocodiles feature in one of our top picks for 2016. Photo: Stuart Bunn

In Oecologia Jardine and colleagues show that the size of fish and crocodiles is associated with the level of allochthony; larger organisms require more external food supplies compared to smaller organisms.

Contributed by Dr Fernanda Adame

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