For more than 11 years I have been researching and working to improve the effective of conservation actions taken to promote the persistence of freshwater ecosystems and the species that they support. These days, I spend most of my work time at a desk, and so, my interactions with rivers can be limited [but I am working to change that]. That means that when it is time to take a holiday or some time off, I often look for a reason to visit a river as well as the sea! At the start of 2016 we visited Andorra and did some short hikes. Often the trails that we hiked ran perpendicular to rivers, offering a chance to hear the rushing, and to run your hands through, the crisp cool water. Near the top of one trail/mountain I ducked under some brush to get a better view of the stream that it was blocking. Behind the brush was a beautiful stream (see pic above) with moss covered boulders and cascading falls. I always find that I get a lot of joy and energy from, even brief, interactions with small streams like the one pictured above. Small streams at the tops of mountains or hills, are what scientists often call ‘headwaters‘ because they are the waterways that start, and eventually flow into, larger streams and rivers downstream. These headwaters and the vegetation around them play important roles in the collection and retention of water from various forms of precipitation, and are the sources of many important services provided to humans, such as provisioning drinking water. In some regions, with very high mountains, these headwaters can even depend on and collect water directly from clouds that pass through the surrounding vegetation; this is called cloud capture. For me these headwaters are some of the most fascinating ecosystems on the planet.
The next time you are out for a hike make sure you listen for, and maybe even spot, the river that flows nearby you. What can you hear? What plants or animals do you see?
Photo and haiku: Steph Januchowski-Hartley