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Aquatic Transitions scientific goals

Wetlands and water remain a key realm of applied paleoecological research with many proxies reflecting the changing nature of the water body as well as reflecting the climatic and human drivers of these changes.

The Aquatic Transitions working group reviewed direct human impact on aquatic ecosystems, at times in the past critical to each region, and the internal responses of the wetlands, to explore the responsiveness, resistance and resilience of aquatic systems worldwide to natural and anthropogenic forces.

Aquatic Transitions had two primary objectives or projects:

1. To document the global history of the impact of humans on aquatic systems. By identifying the first point of human impact, and the inception and peak of the impact of the industrialised phase, Project 1 revealed the responsiveness of aquatic systems to the presence of humanity, within a framework of climate variability.

2. To drill down into the nature of these transitions to examine the ecosystem dynamics that have resisted human pressures, as well as the changes leading up to the point where the system succumbed, and the degree to which new, stabilising forces have entrenched the system in a new regime.

The group achieved this by collating published global paleolimnological records, sifting through these records and attributing changes in records to critical phases in human settlement and activity. It avoided using time slices, but selected critical points of impact that may be time transgressive. By assembling the world’s leading researchers on these points of transition, it applied established ecological reasoning to attribute the identified changes to press or pulse responses, or regime shifts.

Ultimately, Aquatic Transitions aimed to produce a global synthesis of human impact on global aquatic systems at three contact points (first evidence of humans; first evidence of industrialisation; peak impact). It also synthesized paleolimnological evidence for regime shifts, and early warning signals before threshold change. It developed a repository of published research documenting transitions in aquatic systems and sought to develop a database of paleorecords that documents regime shifts.