River ecosystems are subject to multiple stressors that affect their structure and functioning. River ecosystem structure refers to characteristics such as channel form, water quality or the composition of biological communities, whereas ecosystem functioning refers to processes such as nutrient cycling, organic matter decomposition or secondary production. Nowadays there is much more information on structural than functional characteristics, and despite the many methods available to measure river functional properties, only structural ones are routinely used by river managers. Although structure and functioning influence each other, their relationship is not straightforward and often one cannot be automatically inferred from the other. Furthermore, environmental stressors can affect structure and functioning in contrasting ways. Thus, lack of development and implementation of tools to measure ecosystem functioning prevents the complete assessment and understanding of river ecosystems and the services they provide.
The GLOBAQUA toolbox consists on a critical and synthetic compilation of methods to measure ecosystem functioning in rivers, which can be adapted to different objectives, situations, budgets and levels of expertise. The toolbox includes a description of the main characteristics of each method, the aspects of the ecosystem they address, the environmental stressors they are sensitive to, possible difficulties in their implementation, as well as their general advantages and disadvantages. Current limitations, potential improvements and future steps in the development of the toolbox are also discussed. The toolbox is tailored for scientists as well as for routine monitoring by water managers. Our ultimate purpose is to contribute to a more functional perspective in river research and management. The toolbox is openly available and will be updated continuously through the inputs of GLOBAQUA researchers and other contributors.
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