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River Networks as Ecological Corridors for Species, Populations and Pathogens of Water-Borne Disease (and the Capital in the 21st Century)

26 Novembre 2014
San Francesco - Cappella Guinigi
River basins are a natural laboratory for the integration of hydrological, ecological and geomorphological processes. Moving from morphological and functional analyses of dendritic geometries observed in Nature over a wide range of scales, the Lecture addresses essential processes sustaining human life and societies taking place along dendritic structures (floods, droughts, a fair distribution of water)-- suggesting that indeed they can be predicted. Population migrations and human settlements historically proceeded along river networks to follow water supply routes. Riparian areas, critically important ecosystems positioned along streams and rivers, play crucial roles in their watersheds and in the loss of biodiversity proceeding at unprecedented rates in the Anthropocene. Waterborne disease like cholera or schistosomiasis thrive in pristine or engineered watercourses especially if water resources developments loom in the background. How does connectivity within a river network affect the emergent spreading of water-borne infections? Does the river basin act as a template for biodiversity? Are there hydrologic and human mobility drivers and controls on the spreading of water-borne disease? Is there a linkage to the purported failure of economic development to bring equality in the wealth of nations? Can we contribute to bridge development thinking, argued to be stacked against Nature as it stands, and environmental thinking? Can we evaluate quantitatively ecosystem services discounting the environment? Here, I shall focus on the scientific perspectives provided by ecohydrological studies centered on river networks viewed as ecological corridors for species, populations and pathogens of waterborne disease and described mathematically as the fractal support for reactive transport. The Lecture overviews a number of topics idiosynchratically related to my own research work. From such raw material, a general theory will be argued to emerge on the role of dendritic geometries as environmental support for ecological dynamics and processes operating on fluvial networks and connected water pathways seen as a proxy of social and economic development – a fun and possibly even instructive novel research field.
Rinaldo, Andrea - École Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne - Losanna