Climate is changing rapidly, beyond the range of previous natural variability. Natural ecosystems, already under stress from land-use change and pollution, now face additional pressures from climate change, both directly and through interaction with other drivers of change. These pose serious threats to human society as the availability and quality of freshwater determines the functioning of every ecosystem, not least those on which people depend.
Ecosystems are so complex that predicting and managing the ecological consequences of global change is a task that requires great expertise, new methods and comprehensive, new approaches. The EU Framework 6 project Euro-limpacs (Integrated Project to Evaluate the Impacts of Global Change on European Freshwater Ecosystems) was concerned with the direct and indirect impacts of climate change on both the physical and ecological characteristics of European freshwater ecosystems.
In addition to furthering understanding of the way aquatic ecosystems respond to direct and indirect climate change impacts, the output from Euro-limpacs was of practical relevance for the development of policies and implementation strategies needed to protect aquatic and riparian wetland ecosystems especially with respect to the implementation of the EU Water Framework Directive, the EU Habitats Directive, the Ramsar Convention, the UN Convention on Biological Diversity and other national and international conventions and protocols. In February 2009, the Euro-limpacs project came to an end.
However, it has been recognised that the measures that need to be taken to restore freshwater ecosystems to good ecological health or to sustain priority species as required by EU Directives need to be designed either to adapt to future climate change or to mitigate the effects of climate. Generating the scientific understanding that enables such measures to be implemented successfully is the principal focus, REFRESH, which will start early in February 2010. This will build firmly on the foundations laid down in Euro-limpacs.