Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:


Three Gorges Dam is an opportunity for ecoscience


China’s Three Gorges Dam, the largest dam project ever, has been seen by ecologists as an environmental disaster in the making. With construction scheduled to be completed later this year, little can be done to stop it, but some Chinese and American ecologists point out that the dark cloud of the environmental consequences does have a silver lining – an unprecedented opportunity to do environmental science.

In an article forthcoming in the May 23 issue of Science, Arizona State University landscape ecologist Jianguo Wu and co-authors Jianhui Huang, Xingguo Han, Zongqiang Xie and Xianming Gao, all from the Institute of Botany of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, argue that the project represents an opportunity to conduct arguably the largest and most complete experiment ever run on the effects of habitat fragmentation, an ecological condition that affects environments across the globe through the process of ongoing human development.

Habitat fragmentation occurs when human development or some other force eliminates large areas continuous natural habitat, leaving habitat "islands" where remaining species of plants and animals are left in a limited space, isolated from other similar communities and habitats. Examples of the condition are wild spaces (parks or undeveloped lots) that are surrounded by urban development, remnant patches of wilderness that are left when a forest is cleared for farming, or elevated terrestrial habitats that suddenly become scattered islands when a landscape is flooded. While some plant and animal species initially remain on the habitat fragments, the long-term stability of the isolated ecosystems is in question.

In the case of Three Gorges Dam, the reservoir will cover 1080 square kilometers of ecologically rich landscape, leaving several dozen to perhaps more than 100 mountaintops as islands.

"Habitat fragmentation is a pervasive global problem that has generally been recognized as the primary cause of the loss of biodiversity," said Wu, "yet its underlying processes and mechanisms remain poorly understood."

Wu argues that because of the dam’s size, the biological richness of the area, and the possibility of doing thorough before-and-after surveys and studies, the Three Gorges Dam Project would allow the best opportunity to date to study habitat fragmentation, in process and on a full landscape scale. At issue is experimental verification of the fine points of Hierarchical Patch Dynamics, an ecological theory that inter-relates specific plant and animal populations, communities and habitats in a complex and dynamic linkages over diverse landscapes.

"Historically, we have had only a few remarkable natural large-scale ecological experiments with habitat fragmentation," he said. "It is clear that some of the most valuable knowledge of the ecological consequences of habitat fragmentation have been gained by this kind of study. With Three Gorges Dam, we will be able to learn vastly more."

Though similar studies have been done at Gatun Lake in Panama and Lake Guri in Venezuela, no previous study of the effects of habitat fragmentation has had the advantage of the kind of "planned experiment" that Three Gorges Dam represents. Because of the groundwork laid by previous research, the existence of a developed theory to guide the current research and the opportunity to fully study the landscape before it is changed, Three Gorges Dam will allow the thorough testing and refinement of key hypotheses in conservation biology and landscape ecology.

The key issues for the proposed experiment at the moment are time – the dam will be completed later this year and the six-year process of filling will begin – and the need to quickly marshal a team of scientists and a large set of resources from both China and the international community.

"A lot of Chinese ecologists are looking forward to some sort of international collaboration," said Wu "The Chinese government, including the Academy of Sciences, the Natural Science Foundation, and some other agencies have already supported some small projects, but I think it is extremely important to have an international collaborative team to really carry this forward.

"International expertise and funding, combined with existing Chinese resources will make this a very productive project for ecology. I don’t think we could find any other place with this opportunity where we would find all these human resources and support from all angles to do such a gigantic experiment," he said.

Though much will be lost in the process, the knowledge that can be gained from the research may ultimately help humanity better preserve the global biosphere, Wu notes. "The world’s largest dam is not only a demonstration of the mighty power of humanity; it can and should become a unique and rich source of information for understanding and conserving biodiversity and ecosystem services," he said.

James Hathaway | EurekAlert!
Further information:

More articles from Ecology, The Environment and Conservation:

nachricht Invasive Insects Cost the World Billions Per Year
04.10.2016 | University of Adelaide

nachricht Malaysia's unique freshwater mussels in danger
27.09.2016 | The University of Nottingham Malaysia Campus

All articles from Ecology, The Environment and Conservation >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Etching Microstructures with Lasers

Ultrafast lasers have introduced new possibilities in engraving ultrafine structures, and scientists are now also investigating how to use them to etch microstructures into thin glass. There are possible applications in analytics (lab on a chip) and especially in electronics and the consumer sector, where great interest has been shown.

This new method was born of a surprising phenomenon: irradiating glass in a particular way with an ultrafast laser has the effect of making the glass up to a...

Im Focus: Light-driven atomic rotations excite magnetic waves

Terahertz excitation of selected crystal vibrations leads to an effective magnetic field that drives coherent spin motion

Controlling functional properties by light is one of the grand goals in modern condensed matter physics and materials science. A new study now demonstrates how...

Im Focus: New 3-D wiring technique brings scalable quantum computers closer to reality

Researchers from the Institute for Quantum Computing (IQC) at the University of Waterloo led the development of a new extensible wiring technique capable of controlling superconducting quantum bits, representing a significant step towards to the realization of a scalable quantum computer.

"The quantum socket is a wiring method that uses three-dimensional wires based on spring-loaded pins to address individual qubits," said Jeremy Béjanin, a PhD...

Im Focus: Scientists develop a semiconductor nanocomposite material that moves in response to light

In a paper in Scientific Reports, a research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute describes a novel light-activated phenomenon that could become the basis for applications as diverse as microscopic robotic grippers and more efficient solar cells.

A research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) has developed a revolutionary, light-activated semiconductor nanocomposite material that can be used...

Im Focus: Diamonds aren't forever: Sandia, Harvard team create first quantum computer bridge

By forcefully embedding two silicon atoms in a diamond matrix, Sandia researchers have demonstrated for the first time on a single chip all the components needed to create a quantum bridge to link quantum computers together.

"People have already built small quantum computers," says Sandia researcher Ryan Camacho. "Maybe the first useful one won't be a single giant quantum computer...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>



Event News

#IC2S2: When Social Science meets Computer Science - GESIS will host the IC2S2 conference 2017

14.10.2016 | Event News

Agricultural Trade Developments and Potentials in Central Asia and the South Caucasus

14.10.2016 | Event News

World Health Summit – Day Three: A Call to Action

12.10.2016 | Event News

Latest News

3-D-printed structures shrink when heated

26.10.2016 | Materials Sciences

Indian roadside refuse fires produce toxic rainbow

26.10.2016 | Health and Medicine

First results of NSTX-U research operations

26.10.2016 | Physics and Astronomy

More VideoLinks >>>