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Hydrology and Earth System Sciences An interactive open-access journal of the European Geosciences Union
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Volume 16, issue 11 | Copyright
Hydrol. Earth Syst. Sci., 16, 3945-3957, 2012
https://doi.org/10.5194/hess-16-3945-2012
© Author(s) 2012. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License.

Research article 01 Nov 2012

Research article | 01 Nov 2012

An ecohydrological sketch of climate change impacts on water and natural ecosystems for the Netherlands: bridging the gap between science and society

J. P. M. Witte1,2, J. Runhaar1, R. van Ek3, D. C. J. van der Hoek4, R. P. Bartholomeus1, O. Batelaan5,6, P. M. van Bodegom2, M. J. Wassen7, and S. E. A. T. M. van der Zee8 J. P. M. Witte et al.
  • 1KWR Watercycle Research Institute, P.O. Box 1072, 3430 BB Nieuwegein, The Netherlands
  • 2VU University Amsterdam, Department of Ecological Science, De Boelelaan 1085, 1081 HV Amsterdam, The Netherlands
  • 3Deltares, P.O. Box 85467, 3508 AL Utrecht, The Netherlands
  • 4PBL Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency, P.O. Box 303, 3720 AH Bilthoven, The Netherlands
  • 5Dept. of Hydrology and Hydraulic Engineering, Vrije Universiteit Brussel, Pleinlaan 2, 1050 Brussels, Belgium
  • 6School of the Environment, Flinders University, GP.O. Box 2100, Adelaide, South Australia 5001, Australia
  • 7Environmental Sciences, Faculty of Geosciences, Copernicus Institute of Sustainable Development, Utrecht University, Heidelberglaan 2, 3584 CS Utrecht, The Netherlands
  • 8Wageningen UR, Environmental sciences, Soil Physics, Ecohydrology and Groundwater Management Group, P.O. Box 47, 6700 AA Wageningen, The Netherlands

Abstract. For policy making and spatial planning, information is needed about the impacts of climate change on natural ecosystems. To provide this information, commonly hydrological and ecological models are used. We give arguments for our assessment that modelling only is insufficient for determining the impacts of climate changes on natural ecosystems at regional scales. Instead, we proposed a combination of hydrological simulations, a literature review and process-knowledge on climate-hydrology-vegetation interactions, to compile a sketch map that indicates climate change effects on a number of ecosystems in the Netherlands. Soon after a first version of our sketch map was published by a Dutch professional journal, copies appeared in policy documents, and also in a commercial and popular atlas of the Netherlands. Moreover, the map led to a question in the Dutch parliament about the sustainability of bog reserves under the future climate. Apparently, there was an urgent need for the information provided by the map.

The map shows that climate change will presumably have the largest influence on ecosystems in the Netherlands that depend on precipitation as the major water source, like heathlands, dry grasslands, rain-fed moorland pools and raised bogs. Also highly susceptible are fens in reserves surrounded by deeply drained polders, because such fens depend on the inlet of surface water, of which quality is likely to deteriorate upon climate change. While the map is indicative for directions of change, in view of the uncertainties of our study, no conclusions should be drawn that may have far-reaching consequences, such as giving up certain nature targets that might no longer be feasible in the future climate. Instead, we advise to anticipate the potential threats from climate change by taking a number of adaptation measures that enhance the robustness of nature reserves.

To improve climate change projections on hydrology and ecosystems, future research should especially focus on feedbacks of vegetation on the water balance, on processes that directly influence plant performance and on the ecological effects of weather extremes.

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