Gemma Burgazzi: "Understanding temporary rivers' dynamics is crucial for their conservation"
Gemma Burgazzi is PhD researcher at the Aquatic Ecology Lab of the University of Parma. Her research is focused on freshwater macroinvertebrate communities and their responses to flow modifications. In particular she studies the diversity and distribution of taxa in different types of ecosystems across environmental gradients. The aim of the project is to understand the effects of flow variations due to dams and water withdrawals and provide useful information for maintenance of river ecosystem. From March to April, Gemma was in Barcelona working with TRivers project. In this interview, she shared with us her experience during her stay and her views about the importance of studying temporary rivers.
Could you briefly describe the objectives of your PhD?
My PhD is focused on the study of macroinvertebrate communities' dynamics in rivers with different degrees of intermittence and at different spatial scales. I'm trying to investigate which are the main drivers of the communities and how they evolve in time.
Why and how did you get interested in these issues?
I started to work with macroinvertebrates during a stage in an environmental agency after my bachelor degree and then I got interested on the effects of water variations and intermittence during my master thesis. Therefore, it started almost by chance, but then these arguments intrigued me more and more and I brought them forward with the PhD.
How important is the role of freshwater macroinvertebrate communities in river ecosystems and the study of their condition?
I think the study of macroinvertebrate communities is essential because they are one of the best and more suitable proxies for understanding the health state of a river.
Why did you choose the TRivers project to do your research stay?
During my work, I read a lot of papers published by people from the F.E.M. group, so I contacted them for my PhD mobility program. When they told me about the TRivers project I realized that it was perfect for improving my knowledge for my PhD topics.
What kind of work have you done during your stay here?
During my stage in the F.E.M. group, I studied the relations between the local environmental conditions, the time of disconnection of the habitats inside the rivers and the macroinvertebrate community structure.
What are the main take-home messages of your stay?
Working in the TRivers project, I learned an easy and precise method for detecting the disconnection time of river habitats, in addition to an improvement of my knowledge about temporary river ecology.
How will you apply this knowledge to your PhD?
The method I learned during my stage will be applied for a part of my PhD project where I will study the longitudinal variation of water permanence in rivers and the relative variation of macroinvertebrate communities.
What would you like to highlight about your stay?
During my research stay I worked in a highly skilled and collaborative group, with a lot of other PhD students so I had the chance to meet, discuss and exchange ideas.
Why do you think is important to do research about temporary rivers?
From my point of view improving the understanding of temporary rivers is a crucial point because this kind of systems is increasing all around the world (for the effects of climate change and anthropogenic impact), with many rivers undergoing hydrological regime shifts. Therefore, understanding their dynamics and the response of biotic communities is fundamental for the maintenance of these ecosystems and the high levels of biodiversity they support.
Could you highlight any aspect about temporary rivers that you didn't expect to find before coming to Barcelona?
In addition to the new method that I learned in the University of Barcelona, I also learned how the environmental and geographical context is important in determining the characteristics of the temporary rivers.
What has been your experience during the stage?
Besides the work on the TRivers project, I did also several sampling and laboratory activities and I attended to some seminars and research group meetings. This stage gave me the opportunity to work with people from different countries and with different competence and I think this is a really valuable experience for a young researcher.