Sophie Guingand is a final year student in the Masters Program in Conservation Biology, Biodiversity and Management at the University of Liège, Belgium. Currently, she is working at the Research Institute for the Conservation of Mediterranean Wetlands Tour du Valat in France, created by Luc Hoffmann in 1964, on a project to develop methodologies to characterize the vulnerability of wetlands to climate change in the French Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur (PACA) Region. The project is part of the Regional Action Plan on Climate Change and Water Resources (PRACC) launched by the Water Agency Rhône Méditerranée Corse and the PACA Region, it runs for a year and has been developed in collaboration with Maison Regionale de l’eau, Region Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur, Water Agency Rhône Méditerranée Corse and Tour du Valat.
The main objective is to develop indicators to identify hotspots of wetland vulnerability to climate change and to propose actions to guarantee the conservation of those ecosystems.
Climate change will affect the hydrology of individual wetland ecosystems mostly through changes in precipitation and temperature regimes with great global variability. From the perspective of assessment of climate variability and the effect on wetlands, these ecosystems need to be viewed in the broader context of their spatial location in a watershed within a specific region. Given the diversity of wetland types and their individual characteristics, the impacts resulting from climate change will be somewhat customized and so will the restoration remedies. It will be critically important to determine specific expected future changes in climate by region and conduct adequate monitoring to ascertain how actual conditions track with the specific climate change model for a region. This may prove to be difficult and will take a considerable educational effort to convince governments and organizations to spend money on monitoring (Wetlands Ecol Manage, 2009).
Sophie has been working on different criteria to build indicators for monitoring and managing the wetlands in the PACA Region. The methodology to characterize wetlands’ vulnerability to climate change is based on physical and hydrological criteria, such as lithology or distance to the river; but also on biological criteria, such as species richness, the presence of threatened species, etc. Those criteria are used to create indicators allowing comparisons between wetlands and a hierarchical treatment of those habitats. Once the indicators are built, Sophie has to give each wetland’s vulnerability a score.
At the end of the project, Sophie expects to have different maps with the hotspots of wetland vulnerability to climate change in the PACA Region. With this tool in hand, scientists and experts should be able to decide which actions to undertake and on which wetlands they have to focus their work.
Sophie explains that climate change makes wetland habitats one of the most vulnerable in the world. They provide lots of services for everyone, but too many people are not aware that wetlands are so vulnerable. She also points out that she realised that there is almost no information on wetlands affected by climate change, mostly because they are complex ecosystems that bring together many species with different characteristics. For her, it was a challenge to understand and study the interaction between wetlands and climate change.
Following the IUCN and MedWet campaign #NatureForAll and #WetlandsForAll, the young researcher has been reaffirmed in her understanding of the wealth that wetlands offer to human populations through their priceless services.
Read the final year Masters’ report of Sophie Guingand (In French):