M8_Ancient irrigation channels

Ancient irrigation channels as management tools to buffer the impact of climate change in Sierra Nevada ecosystem services

Lead Author: UGR


Quercus pyrenaica forests and Juniperus thickets occupy respectively the treeline and the timberline in Sierra Nevada mountains. Both ecosystems are currently pressed by two main global change drivers: a) land use change (crop abandonment, grazing, lack of forest management, etc.) and b) climate change (higher temperature, decrease of rainfall). According to our results as well as to the predicted climate scenarios, we expect important changes in the structure and function of target ecosystems:

  • Structural changes: Both ecosystem types are shifting their occupation area uphill. The habitat suitability for these ecosystems varies along an altitudinal gradient. The lower part of this gradient will be less suitable for the dominant species. Besides, the upper part will become more suitable. We also expect changes in demography for Quercus and Juniperus communities.

  • Changes in ecosystem functioning: We expect changes in primary production (phenology, net production). Sexual reproduction of Q. pyrenaica and Juniperus can be also affected by the above mentioned impacts.


Changes in structure and functioning will probably cause changes in the capacity of these ecosystems to provide ecosystem services. Furthermore, the expected impacts threaten the conservation objectives established by local, national and international laws.

Thus, our main hypothesis is: “The irrigation channels created by Romans and Muslims in Sierra Nevada during the last 7 centuries, could be useful to buffer the impacts of global change”. The already existing network of channels can improve the availability of water for Q. pyrenaica forests and Juniperus thickets. In order to test this hypothesis, we will address the following tasks:

  • Detailed description of the structure and functioning of the target ecosystems:

    • Gather already existing RS information (MODIS snow cover and NDVI patterns, local NDVI cameras)

    • Deploy wireless sensors in Sierra Nevada.

    • Run hydrological models (Wimmed) to characterize the hydrological cycle in the study area.

  • Gather information about the network of irrigation channels:

    • Links with MEMOLA (http://www.memolaproject.eu/) project.

    • Spatial distribution of irrigation channels with thematic attributes (building material, amount of transported water, watering period)

  • Assess the effect of the irrigation channels on the functioning of target ecosystems. We will conduct statistical analysis to assess significant differences between the structure/functions of target ecosystems affected by irrigation channels and those non affected.


Apart from this hypothesis, the current storyline will allow to address the following objectives:

  • Validate in Sierra Nevada some RS products created by experts (WP4) in other areas (e.g: snow cover, soil moisture, primary production, etc.)

  • Contribute to the creation of a RS based monitoring schema to assess the success of the management actions to be carried out by ADAPTAMED life project (see section 7 for details).

  • Quantify ecosystem services provided by target ecosystems in Sierra Nevada.



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