Rui Rivaes, researcher from the ForProtect Group, received the APRH award for his Ph.D. Thesis
Rui Rivaes, born in Setúbal, began his academic career at Instituto Superior de Agronomia in 1998 with a degree in Forest Engineering and Natural Resources Management, followed by a Master’s Degree in Management and Conservation of Natural Resources. After a stint in the associative forestry sector he began his Ph.D. in River Restoration and Management, which he completed in December 2018, when he delivered his thesis.
The theme that led to the Ph.D. thesis began to be designed when he integrated, during the Master’s Degree, the RIPFLOW project – Riparian vegetation modeling for the assessment of environmental flow regimes and climate change impacts within the Water Framework Directive, led by Prof. Teresa Ferreira.
This was an international project with Austrian and Spanish partners whose goal was to develop and test a riparian vegetation model (riparian vegetation growing on the margins of freshwater systems and their surrounding areas subjected to frequent flooding) that would be able to predict its spatiotemporal distribution according to the hydrological regime of the river (variation in the volume of water flowing in the river and regularly repeated in time and space).
It was in this context that the CASiMiR-vegetation model began to be tested. The tests were to evaluate its predictive quality in different hydrological circumstances and countries. These tests gave rise to the study topic of his Ph.D. thesis: To investigate the response of riparian vegetation to different hydrological regime scenarios, as well as its interactions with river processes for better river management and conservation. Trying to understand not only how the dynamics of riparian vegetation depends on the hydrological regime, but also what solutions could be created to improve and recover riparian vegetation in stretches of rivers regularized by dams. Controlling dam discharges could optimize or improve the ecological condition of riparian vegetation.
Research that then led to other questions, such as: “If we improve the riparian condition, what happens to the other biological elements (fish, for example) in rivers? Or, if we only focus on river restoration solutions on aquatic biological elements and don’t think about riparian vegetation, what effect does the degradation of riparian vegetation have on these biological elements themselves?”
Field data started to be collected in 2010 and ran until 2017. First in the Ribeira de Odelouca, then downstream from the Monte da Rocha Dam and then in 5 more study sites in the Tagus River and its tributaries.
The main conclusions of the thesis are the demonstration of the increased threat to the Mediterranean riparian ecosystem regarding climate change scenarios. In the future, in the Mediterranean climate, there will be more droughts and more intense flooding phenomena, which means that the riparian vegetation here is subject to longer and more drastic droughts in summer, while the morphodynamic disturbance of the winter floods will also be much more intense than in other hydrological regimes in Europe.
This means that riparian vegetation in a Mediterranean climate will, expectedly, show more drastic changes to the climate change scenarios considered, than in other European watercourses with different hydrological regimes.
The conclusions also reveal the ecological specificities of riparian vegetation in Mediterranean systems concerning general scientific knowledge on the subject, as well as the predominant role of this biological element in the ecological quality of the river system in general.
For the researcher, the Portuguese Association of Water Resources (APRH) award is a proof that research work is going in the right direction: “It means that good work has been done. The thesis, when analyzed and recognized by a group of experts, encourages us, researchers, to continue working. The research work is not easily put into practice or few people may become aware of it. During the process we think about whether the work we are doing will be of any use in the future. Being analyzed by a jury composed of experts in the area, who considered this thesis to have the necessary characteristics to be awarded makes us think that it is worth continuing, that the studies we are carrying out are on the right track and that we are adjusted to what they consider correct and important to investigate”.
Read Rui Rivaes’ thesis here: