Rethinking the role of water in climate robust landscapes

This project aims at setting up a transdisciplinary study to establish how land and water use practices are interacting with landscape scale biodiversity, water quality, and society. The project starts from current conditions and incorporates future scenarios of climate and societal conditions up to 2050.

Water plays a central role in the Dutch landscape and water levels are tightly controlled. Specifically, they are largely kept low and stable, with the aim of optimizing agricultural production and protecting urban areas. Current water management schemes conflict with a sustainable and nature-inclusive land use given that the biodiversity and functioning of natural wetlands require high and fluctuating water levels. Resilience to climate change is especially low in the sandy soil landscapes in the south and east of the Netherlands. These areas have experienced longer periods of drought in recent years. These droughts threaten the livelihoods of farmers, as around 60% of the land is used for agricultural purposes. In the current Dutch landscapes, such climatic changes are expected to accelerate the deterioration of soil and water quality and threaten their sustainable use. Thus, water management aimed to restore and maintain a sustainable use of surface waters requires an integrated approach building on a basic understanding of processes improving biodiversity, water quality and ecosystem functioning.

This project will assess the complex interplay of climatic changes, societal responses, and impacts on water quality and biodiversity using basic scientific approaches to develop scenarios for climate robust landscapes. Specifically, we will follow a social-ecological systems (SES) approach. This approach can serve as instrument in promoting an interdisciplinary dialogue and allows collaboration in a wide set of fields and practices.

This project will provide a basic understanding on how land use will impact biodiversity and water quality in a low-land river area in the south of the Netherlands, which is used to develop scenarios integrating climate and demographic change impacts in this region. Next steps will be developed in course of this project but are expected to include long-term effects of management actions, combined (climatic, ecological, and social) modelling approaches, and the assessment of economic, technological, societal, and political feasibility. These next steps will be embedded in a follow-up proposal. With this follow-up, we consolidate findings, extend interdisciplinarity, focussing on next steps to quantify the pathways to future scenarios and optimize nature-based and society inclusive solutions. With this project, we aim to becoming an established inter-institutional group for solving climate-based challenges in social-environmental systems.

Runtime: July 2023 – January 2025
Partners: Prof. Dedmer van de Waal NIOO-KNAW (PI); Prof. Helga de Valk (co-applicant) from the Netherlands Interdisciplinary Demographic Institute