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Doñana's water quality, in danger due to intensive agriculture and a poor residual water treatment

Irene Paredes, researcher of the study

Eutrophication is a major cause of wetland degradation worldwide. In recent decades, reductions in nutrient inputs have led to improvements in water quality in many rivers and lakes in central and northern Europe, but long-term trends are less clear in southern Europe. The Doñana Biological Station conducted the first comprehensive study of water quality in Doñana, one of the most important wetland complexes in Europe and the Mediterranean region.

The core area of Doñana is a large shallow, seasonal marsh (UNESCO World Heritage Site—WHS) that floods during rainy, cool winter months, then dries out during the summer. The marsh is fed by three main streams whose catchments are within a Biosphere Reserve but are impacted by greenhouses (for cultivating fruit, irrigated with groundwater), poorly treated urban wastewaters and tourism.

From 2013 to 2016, the research team monitored nutrient and phytoplankton chlorophyll-a (chla) concentrations in surface waters of the Doñana marsh and the three main streams. They quantified changes in greenhouse cover since 1995 using satellite images. Nutrient concentrations in streams were consistently higher than in the marsh, particularly in the Partido and Rocina streams that regularly reached concentrations equivalent to a "bad physico-chemical status" under the EU Water Framework Directive (WFD), and whose catchments suffered a fivefold expansion of greenhouses from 1995 to 2016.

The Partido was the most polluted stream, and the most affected by wastewater effluents, and had particularly high concentrations of NH4+ and NO2? across seasons. Patterns in chla concentrations were less consistent, but streams generally had higher concentrations than the marsh. Nutrient concentrations in spot samples within the marsh largely depended on a combination of evaporation (as revealed by higher stable isotope ?2H values in the water column) and spatial processes (concentrations increase close to stream entry points, where conductivity is lower).

Anthropogenic nutrient pollution in entry streams is a serious problem in Doñana, with extensive stretches too toxic for fish. Reinforcement of policies aimed at reducing nutrient inputs to Doñana are urgently required to meet the biodiversity conservation and environmental objectives for the WHS and WFD, respectively. Paradoxically, the marsh is currently relied upon to purify the water entering from streams.



Paredes, I., Ramírez, F., Aragonés, D., Bravo, M.A., G. Forero, M., Green, A.J. (2021). Ongoing anthropogenic eutrophication of the catchment area threatens the Doñana World Heritage Site (South-west Spain). Wetlands Ecology and Management.

Read the full press release (Spanish)

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Artificial light at night as a driver of urban colonization

Artificial light at night as a driver of urban colonization

Urbanization and artificial light at night (ALAN) are major drivers of local biodiversity losses causing community alterations, disruption of predator-prey interactions, and ultimately, promotion of cascading effects. However, some species can colonize urban environments. The role of ALAN as a driver of the colonization of urban environments by a nocturnal avian predator, the burrowing owl Athene cunicularia, was explored. In a suburban locality in La Pampa, Argentina, prey availability was studied with pitfall traps under streetlights and control sites. Additionally diet was studied by analyzing pellets and space use by deploying GPS data-loggers to breeding owls. Nesting habitat selection was assessed by comparing environmental variables at nest and random locations and productivity was analysed by correlating environmental variables with the number of fledglings. First, streetlights altered the invertebrate availability, attracting them to illuminated areas. Second, the owl diet was more similar to the invertebrate taxa trapped at pitfall traps under streetlights than that in control traps. Third, owl space use was determined by streetlights. Owls spent more time around light sources, particularly during the nighttime. Fourth, the most important habitat feature influencing the nesting habitat selection was the distance to streetlight. Owls selected areas close to streetlights for nesting. Finally, productivity was not explained by any of the habitat variables. Results demonstrate that ALAN alters the availability of invertebrates and plays a role in the diet, space use, and occupation of urban burrowing owls. Streetlights increase foraging efficiency for owls due to the clumping of prey attracted to lights. This predator-prey relationship might be only supported in suburban environments where low urbanization levels let burrowing owls nest in bare ground areas, and invertebrates are attracted to ALAN from surrounding wilder areas. informacion[at] Rodríguez at al (2020) Artificial light at night as a driver of urban colonization by an avian predator. Landscape Ecol DOI 10.1007/s10980-020-01132-3