Social-ecological interactions in the Draa River Basin, southern Morocco: Towards nature conservation and human well-being using the IPBES framework

Sci Total Environ. 2021 May 15:769:144492. doi: 10.1016/j.scitotenv.2020.144492. Epub 2021 Jan 6.


Water is essential to human societies and a prerequisite for flourishing nature, especially in arid regions. Yet, climate change and socio-economic developments are expected to exacerbate current and future stresses on water resources, demanding innovative approaches to balance water needs for society and nature conservation. In this study, we use the IPBES conceptual framework to combine ecological and socio-economic insights and analyse the connections between people and nature in the water scarce Draa River Basin, southern Morocco. We study the diversity of desert benthic macroinvertebrates as one component of nature using DNA barcoding and their potential to serve as bioindicators of human impact by relating species occurrences to environmental parameters. Furthermore, based on 87 interviews with farmers and key institutional stakeholders, we investigate how farmers perceive water related changes and how water is managed in the basin. Regarding benthic macroinvertebrates, 41 families were identified, 475 DNA barcodes generated and assigned to 118 putative species (Barcode Index Numbers) of which 60 were first records. This indicates a lack of reference sequences for known, but also a potentially high number of undescribed species. Environmental parameters, which are partly influenced by human activities, such as aquatic stages, salinity and intermittency, were the most important variables explaining invertebrate richness and community composition in generalized linear models. We further describe farmers' perceptions of decreasing water quality and quantity. Farmers generally believe that they are able to cope with water related changes, although perceptions are regionally differentiated with farmers downstream being less optimistic. With growing concerns, water policies currently focus on increasing water supply and less on reducing water demands. Based on these findings, the usefulness of the IPBES framework for understanding social-ecological system dynamics is reflected, and recommendations for future freshwater management and research are derived.

Keywords: DNA barcoding; Desert rivers; Ecosystem services; Transdisciplinarity; Water resource management.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Conservation of Natural Resources
  • Ecosystem*
  • Humans
  • Morocco
  • Rivers*
  • Water Resources