Why should we protect saline lakes? A global analysis of ecosystem services

by Ramesh Wilson

Provenance of the research

  • Undergraduate (BSc) thesis
  • Queen Mary, University of London

Saline lakes are notable for their unique species compositions, and are a critical aquatic resource where they occur. In addition, they provide many ecosystem services that benefit humans. However, they are under threat. Human impact, including the climate crisis and resource exploitation, is exacerbating the natural variability of saline lakes. Despite their value, saline lakes are underappreciated in research and policy due to their remoteness.  This compounds the threats they face, risking their complete degradation. This study aimed to communicate the necessity to conserve saline lakes, by providing a much-needed consensus on their ecological values and ecosystem services. A survey was distributed to 47 international experts, to gather data for 66 saline lakes across all seven continents. I have evidenced the ecological importance of saline lakes, by documenting over 150 threatened species that saline lakes support globally. Furthermore, I have found lake size and remoteness to be primary determinants in provisioning multiple ecosystem services. This study also consolidates expert opinions on the most important ecosystem services and most detrimental threats facing saline lakes. It provides empirical evidence of the value of saline lakes and the ecosystem characteristics that most govern service provision. This shall facilitate greater research, policy and management focus towards the protection of saline lakes. Protective strategies must commit to adaptive management programmes that consider the now exacerbated variability of saline lakes, in order to maintain their wealth of values.

Graphical abstract

Questions

What were the most important or surprising findings of your work?

The most important findings were simply demonstrating the wealth of value that saline lakes provide. The 66 lakes collectively supported 155 IUCN threatened species. Furthermore, international experts ranked the top three ecosystem services and threats of their respective study lakes, to demonstrate primary protective necessities and concerns. Finally, this work evidences size and remoteness to be the primary drivers behind multiple service provision, so are of particular importance for protective strategies. 

What did you struggle with during your research or writing process, and how did you overcome these issues?

The literature review was a struggle in the beginning, as saline lakes are so underrepresented and underappreciated. This lack of research interest was itself the driver for doing this research. I overcame this by collaborating with international experts on saline lakes, which was extremely valuable to ensure reliable information. This provided unique insights and first-hand accounts of the values of individual lakes not represented in the literature. 

What are you doing now, and what are your plans for the coming year?

I’m finishing off my bachelor’s degree, and will be starting my PhD in the Fall. I’m excited to explore the interdisciplinary nature of environmental research more, and actively engage in mitigating the threats of the climate crisis. 

Did your research impact those plans in any way?

Conducting this research has only developed my appreciation for the broad remit of aquatic conservation further. I’m eager to explore saline lake ecology and conservation in the future!

Do you have any advice for people who are undertaking this type of research?

It’s completely fine to not know something! The point of research is to further our understanding, and in doing so, you are contributing to a global effort to reduce and reverse the effects of the climate crisis. Take a step back and appreciate the contribution you are giving to the field!


Ramesh is a BSc Biology student at Queen Mary, University of London, and will begin his PhD in Environmental Research/Zoology at the University of Oxford in October. Ramesh is a keen aquatic conservationist, and has engaged across scientific research, community and policy disciplines. Alongside his dissertation research, he has worked with global NGOs such as Global Vision International, working towards the protection of aquatic ecosystems. Ramesh hopes to research actively multiple stressor effects on aquatic ecosystems, particularly with respect to the climate crisis and conservatory measures.

Categories Student Work

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