Going with the flow: global warming and the challenge of sustaining river ecosystems in monsoonal Asia.
River ecosystems in monsoonal Asia are experiencing human impacts to the detriment of the rich biodiversity they support. Threats include hydrologic alteration, pollution, habitat destruction, overexploitation, and invasive exotic species. Global warming will cause further changes to river ecosystems, and may act synergistically with other threat factors. Significant upward or northward range adjustments by the freshwater biota will be necessary to cope with rising temperatures, but there will be significant constraints upon dispersal ability and availability of suitable habitat for many organisms. Global warming will exacerbate existing impacts of hydrologic alteration because of the adaptive human responses that will be engendered by changes in climate and runoff, particularly dams constructed for hydropower generation, flood protection, water storage, and irrigation. The consequences of further hydrologic alteration and habitat fragmentation will be profound, since almost all ecological processes, material transfers and life-cycle events in the rivers of monsoonal Asia are mediated or controlled by flow. Thus a change in the timing or amounts of flow changes everything. Collaborative research to determine the environmental allocation of water flow needed to maintain ecosystem integrity and sustain biodiversity in the human-dominated rivers of monsoonal Asia should be a priority for ecologists, engineers and water-resource managers.