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  1. Abstract

    Communicating and interpreting uncertainty in ecological model predictions is notoriously challenging, motivating the need for new educational tools, which introduce ecology students to core concepts in uncertainty communication. Ecological forecasting, an emerging approach to estimate future states of ecological systems with uncertainty, provides a relevant and engaging framework for introducing uncertainty communication to undergraduate students, as forecasts can be used as decision support tools for addressing real‐world ecological problems and are inherently uncertain. To provide critical training on uncertainty communication and introduce undergraduate students to the use of ecological forecasts for guiding decision‐making, we developed a hands‐on teaching module within the Macrosystems Environmental Data‐Driven Inquiry and Exploration (EDDIE; educational program. Our module used an active learning approach by embedding forecasting activities in an R Shiny application to engage ecology students in introductory data science, ecological modeling, and forecasting concepts without needing advanced computational or programming skills. Pre‐ and post‐module assessment data from more than 250 undergraduate students enrolled in ecology, freshwater ecology, and zoology courses indicate that the module significantly increased students' ability to interpret forecast visualizations with uncertainty, identify different ways to communicate forecast uncertainty for diverse users, and correctly define ecological forecasting terms. Specifically, students were more likely to describe visual, numeric, and probabilistic methods of uncertainty communication following module completion. Students were also able to identify more benefits of ecological forecasting following module completion, with the key benefits of using forecasts for prediction and decision‐making most commonly described. These results show promise for introducing ecological model uncertainty, data visualizations, and forecasting into undergraduate ecology curricula via software‐based learning, which can increase students' ability to engage and understand complex ecological concepts.

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  2. Abstract

    Near‐term freshwater forecasts, defined as sub‐daily to decadal future predictions of a freshwater variable with quantified uncertainty, are urgently needed to improve water quality management as freshwater ecosystems exhibit greater variability due to global change. Shifting baselines in freshwater ecosystems due to land use and climate change prevent managers from relying on historical averages for predicting future conditions, necessitating near‐term forecasts to mitigate freshwater risks to human health and safety (e.g., flash floods, harmful algal blooms) and ecosystem services (e.g., water‐related recreation and tourism). To assess the current state of freshwater forecasting and identify opportunities for future progress, we synthesized freshwater forecasting papers published in the past 5 years. We found that freshwater forecasting is currently dominated by near‐term forecasts of waterquantityand that near‐term waterqualityforecasts are fewer in number and in the early stages of development (i.e., non‐operational) despite their potential as important preemptive decision support tools. We contend that more freshwater quality forecasts are critically needed and that near‐term water quality forecasting is poised to make substantial advances based on examples of recent progress in forecasting methodology, workflows, and end‐user engagement. For example, current water quality forecasting systems can predict water temperature, dissolved oxygen, and algal bloom/toxin events 5 days ahead with reasonable accuracy. Continued progress in freshwater quality forecasting will be greatly accelerated by adapting tools and approaches from freshwater quantity forecasting (e.g., machine learning modeling methods). In addition, future development of effective operational freshwater quality forecasts will require substantive engagement of end users throughout the forecast process, funding, and training opportunities. Looking ahead, near‐term forecasting provides a hopeful future for freshwater management in the face of increased variability and risk due to global change, and we encourage the freshwater scientific community to incorporate forecasting approaches in water quality research and management.

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    Free, publicly-accessible full text available April 1, 2024
  3. Abstract

    Freshwater lakes and reservoirs play a disproportionate role in the global organic carbon (OC) budget, as active sites for carbon processing and burial. Associations between OC and iron (Fe) are hypothesized to contribute substantially to the stabilization of OC in sediment, but the magnitude of freshwater Fe‐OC complexation remains unresolved. Moreover, global declines in bottom‐water oxygen concentrations have the potential to alter OC and Fe cycles in multiple ways, and the net effects of low‐oxygen (hypoxic) conditions on OC and Fe are poorly characterized. Here, we measured the pool of Fe‐bound OC (Fe‐OC) in surficial sediments from two eutrophic reservoirs, and we paired whole‐ecosystem experiments with sediment incubations to determine the effects of hypoxia on OC and Fe cycling over multiple timescales. Our experiments demonstrated that short periods (2–4 weeks) of hypoxia can increase aqueous Fe and OC concentrations while decreasing OC and Fe‐OC in surficial sediment by 30%. However, exposure to seasonal hypoxia over multiple years was associated with a 57% increase in sediment OC and no change in sediment Fe‐OC. These results suggest that the large sediment Fe‐OC pool (∼30% of sediment OC in both reservoirs) contains both oxygen‐sensitive and oxygen‐insensitive fractions, and over multiannual timescales OC respiration rates may play a more important role in determining the effect of hypoxia on sediment OC than Fe‐OC dissociation. Consequently, we anticipate that global declines in oxygen concentrations will alter OC and Fe cycling, with the direction and magnitude of effects dependent upon the duration of hypoxia.

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  4. Abstract

    Small freshwater reservoirs are ubiquitous and likely play an important role in global greenhouse gas (GHG) budgets relative to their limited water surface area. However, constraining annual GHG fluxes in small freshwater reservoirs is challenging given their footprint area and spatially and temporally variable emissions. To quantify the GHG budget of a small (0.1 km2) reservoir, we deployed an Eddy covariance (EC) system in a small reservoir located in southwestern Virginia, USA over 2 years to measure carbon dioxide (CO2) and methane (CH4) fluxes near‐continuously. Fluxes were coupled with in situ sensors measuring multiple environmental parameters. Over both years, we found the reservoir to be a large source of CO2(633–731 g CO2‐C m−2 yr−1) and CH4(1.02–1.29 g CH4‐C m−2 yr−1) to the atmosphere, with substantial sub‐daily, daily, weekly, and seasonal timescales of variability. For example, fluxes were substantially greater during the summer thermally stratified season as compared to the winter. In addition, we observed significantly greater GHG fluxes during winter intermittent ice‐on conditions as compared to continuous ice‐on conditions, suggesting GHG emissions from lakes and reservoirs may increase with predicted decreases in winter ice‐cover. Finally, we identified several key environmental variables that may be driving reservoir GHG fluxes at multiple timescales, including, surface water temperature and thermocline depth followed by fluorescent dissolved organic matter. Overall, our novel year‐round EC data from a small reservoir indicate that these freshwater ecosystems likely contribute a substantial amount of CO2and CH4to global GHG budgets, relative to their surface area.

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  5. Abstract

    Oxygen availability is decreasing in many lakes and reservoirs worldwide, raising the urgency for understanding how anoxia (low oxygen) affects coupled biogeochemical cycling, which has major implications for water quality, food webs, and ecosystem functioning. Although the increasing magnitude and prevalence of anoxia has been documented in freshwaters globally, the challenges of disentangling oxygen and temperature responses have hindered assessment of the effects of anoxia on carbon, nitrogen, and phosphorus concentrations, stoichiometry (chemical ratios), and retention in freshwaters. The consequences of anoxia are likely severe and may be irreversible, necessitating ecosystem‐scale experimental investigation of decreasing freshwater oxygen availability. To address this gap, we devised and conducted REDOX (the Reservoir Ecosystem Dynamic Oxygenation eXperiment), an unprecedented, 7‐year experiment in which we manipulated and modeled bottom‐water (hypolimnetic) oxygen availability at the whole‐ecosystem scale in a eutrophic reservoir. Seven years of data reveal that anoxia significantly increased hypolimnetic carbon, nitrogen, and phosphorus concentrations and altered elemental stoichiometry by factors of 2–5× relative to oxic periods. Importantly, prolonged summer anoxia increased nitrogen export from the reservoir by six‐fold and changed the reservoir from a net sink to a net source of phosphorus and organic carbon downstream. While low oxygen in freshwaters is thought of as a response to land use and climate change, results from REDOX demonstrate that low oxygen can also be adriverof major changes to freshwater biogeochemical cycling, which may serve as an intensifying feedback that increases anoxia in downstream waterbodies. Consequently, as climate and land use change continue to increase the prevalence of anoxia in lakes and reservoirs globally, it is likely that anoxia will have major effects on freshwater carbon, nitrogen, and phosphorus budgets as well as water quality and ecosystem functioning.

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  6. Abstract

    Near‐term ecological forecasts provide resource managers advance notice of changes in ecosystem services, such as fisheries stocks, timber yields, or water quality. Importantly, ecological forecasts can identify where there is uncertainty in the forecasting system, which is necessary to improve forecast skill and guide interpretation of forecast results. Uncertainty partitioning identifies the relative contributions to total forecast variance introduced by different sources, including specification of the model structure, errors in driver data, and estimation of current states (initial conditions). Uncertainty partitioning could be particularly useful in improving forecasts of highly variable cyanobacterial densities, which are difficult to predict and present a persistent challenge for lake managers. As cyanobacteria can produce toxic and unsightly surface scums, advance warning when cyanobacterial densities are increasing could help managers mitigate water quality issues. Here, we fit 13 Bayesian state‐space models to evaluate different hypotheses about cyanobacterial densities in a low nutrient lake that experiences sporadic surface scums of the toxin‐producing cyanobacterium,Gloeotrichia echinulata. We used data from several summers of weekly cyanobacteria samples to identify dominant sources of uncertainty for near‐term (1‐ to 4‐week) forecasts ofG. echinulatadensities. Water temperature was an important predictor of cyanobacterial densities during model fitting and at the 4‐week forecast horizon. However, no physical covariates improved model performance over a simple model including the previous week's densities in 1‐week‐ahead forecasts. Even the best fit models exhibited large variance in forecasted cyanobacterial densities and did not capture rare peak occurrences, indicating that significant explanatory variables when fitting models to historical data are not always effective for forecasting. Uncertainty partitioning revealed that model process specification and initial conditions dominated forecast uncertainty. These findings indicate that long‐term studies of different cyanobacterial life stages and movement in the water column as well as measurements of drivers relevant to different life stages could improve model process representation of cyanobacteria abundance. In addition, improved observation protocols could better define initial conditions and reduce spatial misalignment of environmental data and cyanobacteria observations. Our results emphasize the importance of ecological forecasting principles and uncertainty partitioning to refine and understand predictive capacity across ecosystems.

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  7. Abstract

    Near‐term iterative forecasting is a powerful tool for ecological decision support and has the potential to transform our understanding of ecological predictability. However, to this point, there has been no cross‐ecosystem analysis of near‐term ecological forecasts, making it difficult to synthesize diverse research efforts and prioritize future developments for this emerging field. In this study, we analyzed 178 near‐term (≤10‐yr forecast horizon) ecological forecasting papers to understand the development and current state of near‐term ecological forecasting literature and to compare forecast accuracy across scales and variables. Our results indicated that near‐term ecological forecasting is widespread and growing: forecasts have been produced for sites on all seven continents and the rate of forecast publication is increasing over time. As forecast production has accelerated, some best practices have been proposed and application of these best practices is increasing. In particular, data publication, forecast archiving, and workflow automation have all increased significantly over time. However, adoption of proposed best practices remains low overall: for example, despite the fact that uncertainty is often cited as an essential component of an ecological forecast, only 45% of papers included uncertainty in their forecast outputs. As the use of these proposed best practices increases, near‐term ecological forecasting has the potential to make significant contributions to our understanding of forecastability across scales and variables. In this study, we found that forecastability (defined here as realized forecast accuracy) decreased in predictable patterns over 1–7 d forecast horizons. Variables that were closely related (i.e., chlorophyll and phytoplankton) displayed very similar trends in forecastability, while more distantly related variables (i.e., pollen and evapotranspiration) exhibited significantly different patterns. Increasing use of proposed best practices in ecological forecasting will allow us to examine the forecastability of additional variables and timescales in the future, providing a robust analysis of the fundamental predictability of ecological variables.

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  8. Abstract

    Lakes and reservoirs globally produce large quantities of methane and carbon dioxide in their sediments, which accumulate in the hypolimnia (bottom waters) during thermally stratified conditions. A key parameter controlling hypolimnetic greenhouse gas concentrations is dissolved oxygen. Land use and climate change have increased hypolimnetic anoxia worldwide in lakes and reservoirs, which is expected to affect their methane and carbon dioxide concentrations. We conducted whole‐ecosystem oxygenation experiments to assess the effects of oxygen concentrations on dissolved hypolimnetic greenhouse gas concentrations in comparison to a reference reservoir and calculated the maximum hypolimnetic global warming potential in both reservoirs over three summers. We observed significantly greater hypolimnetic methane under anoxic conditions but similar carbon dioxide concentrations, leading to greater hypolimnetic global warming potential of anoxic hypolimnia. Our study indicates that the global warming potential of hypolimnetic greenhouse gas concentrations may increase as the prevalence of hypolimnetic anoxia increases due to global change.

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  9. Abstract

    To date, most research on cyanobacterial blooms in freshwater lakes has focused on the pelagic life stage. However, examining the complete cyanobacterial life cycle—including benthic life stages—may be needed to accurately predict future bloom dynamics. The current expectation, derived from the pelagic life stage, is that blooms will continue to increase due to the warmer temperatures and stronger stratification associated with climate change. However, stratification and mixing have contrasting effects on different life stages: while pelagic cyanobacteria benefit from strong stratification and are adversely affected by mixing, benthic stages can benefit from increased mixing. The net effects of these potentially counteracting processes are not yet known, since most aquatic ecosystem models do not incorporate benthic stages and few empirical studies have tracked the complete life cycle over multiple years. Moreover, for many regions, climate models project both stronger stratification and increased storm-induced mixing in the coming decades; the net effects of those physical processes, even on the pelagic life stage, are not yet understood. We therefore recommend an integrated research agenda to study the dual effects of stratification and mixing on the complete cyanobacterial life cycle—both benthic and pelagic stages—using models, field observations and experiments.

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  10. Abstract

    Freshwater ecosystems are experiencing greater variability due to human activities, necessitating new tools to anticipate future water quality. In response, we developed and deployed a real‐time iterative water temperature forecasting system (FLARE—Forecasting Lake And Reservoir Ecosystems). FLARE is composed of water temperature and meteorology sensors that wirelessly stream data, a data assimilation algorithm that uses sensor observations to update predictions from a hydrodynamic model and calibrate model parameters, and an ensemble‐based forecasting algorithm to generate forecasts that include uncertainty. Importantly, FLARE quantifies the contribution of different sources of uncertainty (driver data, initial conditions, model process, and parameters) to each daily forecast of water temperature at multiple depths. We applied FLARE to Falling Creek Reservoir (Vinton, Virginia, USA), a drinking water supply, during a 475‐day period encompassing stratified and mixed thermal conditions. Aggregated across this period, root mean square error (RMSE) of daily forecasted water temperatures was 1.13°C at the reservoir's near‐surface (1.0 m) for 7‐day ahead forecasts and 1.62°C for 16‐day ahead forecasts. The RMSE of forecasted water temperatures at the near‐sediments (8.0 m) was 0.87°C for 7‐day forecasts and 1.20°C for 16‐day forecasts. FLARE successfully predicted the onset of fall turnover 4–14 days in advance in two sequential years. Uncertainty partitioning identified meteorology driver data as the dominant source of uncertainty in forecasts for most depths and thermal conditions, except for the near‐sediments in summer, when model process uncertainty dominated. Overall, FLARE provides an open‐source system for lake and reservoir water quality forecasting to improve real‐time management.

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