Coevolution of interconnected river infrastructures and biodiversity
INTERCONNECT is an international-comparative, inter- and transdisciplinary project, which aims to analyse the historical evolution of diverse river infrastructures as well as their potential adaptation to reconcile human activities and biodiversity restoration. To do so, it focuses on two regions, the French-German Upper Rhine area and the Austrian-German border region around Passau with its rivers Danube and Inn.
These two rivers, strongly shaped by human activities, are conceived of as networks of interconnected infrastructures, which are composed by channeled waterways, hydro power stations, watergates, crossing railways, and cycling lanes along the rivers. While these infrastructures and associated human activities have boosted the regional economic development, they have had also a negative impact on the aquatic and terrestrial biodiversity, in particular by interrupting the exological continuity.
The conceptualization of infrastructures as assemblages of linked artefacts, organized in networks and nodes, presents three advantages. 1) It allows to better grasp the interdependences, points of tension, but also dynamics of mutual reinforcements, between diverse infrastructures and the corresponding usages. 2) It enables us to better understand the evolution of biodiversity, which is analysed as the cumulative product of networks rather than of single infrastructures. 3) It helps in identifying potential adaptation measures to reconcile the restoration of biodiversity and the operation of infrastructures for human needs.
Based on this idea, the project team will first analyse the historical development of infrastructure networks in the two regions as well as their relationship with the evolution of biodiversity. This will be conducted for three areas (fishes, alluvial forest and macro-invertebrates) and evaluated through structural and functional indicators. Some of these indicators will be displayed on maps. Subsequently, a series of interviews with local stakeholders will be conducted to grasp current practices of infrastructure operation, interconnections between infrastructures, as well as current activities to preserve biodiversity.
This will be the ground for a second, rather prospective phase of the project, which will be dedicated to identifying potential adaptations of infrastructure networks, with the aim of reconciling at best the preservation of biodiversity and human activities such as recreation, mobility, transport and electricity generation. To that purpose, two interactive processes will be organized. First, in a “group delphi” around 10 ecology experts will be invited to debate potential adaptation measures and converge in a stepwise process towards shared positions. Second, in focus groups local actors will be asked to assess the feasibility of the measures suggested by ecologists with regard to their practical knowledge of river management, their use practices, interests, and values attached to infrastructures. Thus, compromises between human activities and biodiversity preservation shall be achieved.
To conclude the project, the partners will perform a comparative study of both regions and assess the transferability of the findings to other cases. In addition, a handbook addressing local actors will present major outcomes of the project and conceive practical recommendations for the adaptation of infrastructures.