The work of 153 researchers from 40 countries has led to new findings on the effect of climatic factors on river-based ecosystems. The findings are published in the latest issue of the journal Science Advances.

The study found that climatic factors, such as temperature and moisture, influenced carbon-cycling rates of river-based ecosystems. Carbon cycling is critical for the functioning of systems across a range of spatial scales, from local food webs to the global climate.

“River ecosystems play significant roles in the global carbon cycle by regulating rates of decomposition and transporting organic matter to the oceans, but we have only a rudimentary understanding of how decomposition rates vary from river to river,” said Scott Tiegs, a biology professor at Oakland University in Michigan, who led the study.

Unlike most previous studies on carbon cycling in streams and rivers, the methodology in this study was identical across all field sites. The study made use of a standardized, easy-to-use bioassay, which enabled a large number of researchers to participate in the study.

“As a result, we were able to quantify decomposition rates in over 500 rivers across the globe, including every continent,” Tiegs said.

The paper noted that the climatic factors that govern decomposition rates are increasingly impacted by human activities. These findings will help researchers establish baselines to quantify environmental impacts to the functioning of ecosystems on a global scale.

“In addition to providing fundamental information on how river ecosystems function, our results provide baseline data that will enable future researchers to evaluate large-scale ecological responses to warming and other dimensions of global climate change,” said Tiegs.

The research was sponsored by the Ecuadorian Science Foundation.

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