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Partnerships for enhanced engagement in research (PEER) SCIENCE
Cycle 2 (2012 Deadline)

Ecosystem response to climate change in the mountain wetlands

PI:  Juan Castaño (Universidad Tecnológica de Pereira)
U.S. Partner: Jay Martin (The Ohio State University)
Project Dates: September 2013 to August 2016
Project blog
Video of U.S. partner’s March 2015 visit:
Facebook page: 

Since 2008, Colombia has experienced three extreme climate events that have resulted in droughts and flooding during which more than 400 human lives were lost. During these events, 15 percent of the country was inundated and more than $6 billion in economic losses were sustained. While such national and international impacts of climate change are frequently noted and predicted by large-scale models, the local communities that suffer greatly from these disasters and are ultimately responsible for human welfare lack tools to predict and respond to changes in climate. To better prepare local communities to predict climate impacts and develop responses, this project will develop an early alert system to forecast changes in the ecosystem services of water regulation and biodiversity in the Quebrada Dalí watershed. This upstream watershed, located in the central Andes of Colombia, affects agricultural and urban downstream areas that have already realized climate impacts and can greatly benefit from tools to predict further impacts and plan proper responses to climate changes.

ColombiaPicture 1 Lisbran, located within the Quebrada Dali Watershed, is where the instrumentation will be located. (Photo courtesy Dr. Castano).

ColombiaPicture 2 The research team takes a break from its fieldwork (Photo courtesy Dr. Castano).

The long-term goal is to develop a sustainable local ecosystem study site to monitor and model short- and long-term effects of climate change on the ecosystem services provided by Quebrada Dalí watershed. The early warning system to be built will be based on permanent monitoring and adaptive modeling of the effect of climate change on the ecosystem services of water regulation in a watershed in the central Andes and its influence on water supply systems. A critical need for such a system at a local level is evidenced by the fact that many of the prediction models used to determine the effects of climate change on environmental services and society are based on global scale climate data, but they omit biophysical and social influences that determine local responses. As one of the most vulnerable countries to impacts of climate change, Colombia is an excellent location to examine human adaptation to impacts such as severe floods and drought.

Summary of Recent Activities
The first objective on this project is to create a baseline study of water regulation and biodiversity in the Quebrada Dalí watershed. As of August 2015, the complete set of monitoring equipment had been installed at the study site with the exception of the Parshall Flumes. Those had to be replaced with two water level meters for cost reasons, and Dr. Castaño and his team developed an alternative approach for stream flow measurements. Two surveys of stream macroinvertebrates were completed, with more than 5,200 individuals collected, 97 percent of which were insects. Meanwhile, with the use of trap cameras and other surveying techniques the team has also identified 15 mammal species in their study site, several of which (Puma concolor, Tapirus pinchaque, Leopardus pardalis, Dasypus novemcinctus, Dinomys branickii, and Odocoileus virginianus) are registered as threatened species. Although this mammal survey was not included in the original project plan, it came about as a result of the partnership process with other Colombian universities. In addition, after designing three bird census paths over various types of habitats, the team conducted five field surveys covering the three main habitats present in Lisbrán, with a greater emphasis in wetlands. Their results show a diversity of 85 species belonging to 31 families. An additional 12 sampling surveys were completed on wetlands vegetation, although the evapotranspiration studies of two dominant wetland plant species (Eleocharis acicularis and Eleocharis acutanguala) remain to be conducted.

The second key objective is to develop an early warning system based on adaptive modeling of the environmental services of water regulation and biodiversity in the Quebrada Dalí watershed. As of the fall of 2015, a full runoff rainfall model has been calibrated and validated on the software WEAP. Cameras have been installed to track wetlands phenology changes in the study site as part of the effort to facilitate forecasting. Dr. Castaño and his team have finished the coding part for image digital analysis, and their site is currently part of an ecosystem phenology web camera network hosted at the University of New Hampshire ( In terms of capacity building for other institutions , the team has met twice with groups that are part of REDH (Red Hidrolimatológica de Risaralda) to discuss extending the climate monitoring instrumentation to the basin level. The instrumentation at their study site is already part of the REDH weather network web. As for community outreach, the team has conducted seven workshops with children from nearby schools and members of scout groups to teach them on various topics related to their research. Another workshop was held with students from UTP’s Ecotechnology Master’s Program to highlight various research topics they could work on. The equipment installed and the data gathered as part of this PEER project has already been used to improve three courses at UTP.

In the coming months, the team will continue their work on the various biodiversity surveys and wetlands modeling, with a focus on preparing more of their results for publication. Outreach events will continue to be held, and Dr. Castaño and an official from the local water company Aguas y Aguas plan to visit the United States at some point in 2016. 
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