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Ice, wood and rocks: regulating elements in riverine ecosystems
Umeå University, Faculty of Science and Technology, Department of Ecology and Environmental Sciences. (Landscape Ecology Group)
2010 (English)Doctoral thesis, comprehensive summary (Other academic)
Abstract [en]

Riparian ecosystems are of great importance in the landscape, connecting landscape elements longitudinally and laterally and often encompassing sharp environmental gradients in ecological processes and communities. They are influenced by fluvial disturbances such as flooding, erosion and sediment deposition, which create dynamic and spatially heterogeneous habitats that support a high diversity of species. Riverine ecosystems belong among the world’s most threatened systems. In rivers throughout the world, human alterations to fluvial disturbance regimes have resulted in degraded ecosystems and species loss. For example, in Sweden, watercourses of all sizes have been channelized to facilitate timber floating, but in the last 10–20 years the impacts in some of the affected rivers have been reduced by restoration actions. The objectives of this thesis are to evaluate how riverine ecosystems in general, with specific focus on riparian communities, are affected by (1) restoration of channelized reaches by boulder replacement, (2) ice formation, and (3) restoration of in-stream wood abundance in the stream channel. Objective (1) was assessed by quantifying the retention of plant propagules in channelized and restored stream reaches and by evaluating effects on riparian plant and bryophyte communities in disconnected and re-opened side channels. Retention of plant propagule mimics was highest at low flows and in sites where boulders and large wood had been replaced into the channel. Propagules are however unlikely to establish unless they can be further dispersed during subsequent spring high flows to higher riparian elevations suitable for establishment. Thus, immigration to new suitable sites may occur stepwise. Our study demonstrates that restoration of channel complexity through replacement of boulders and wood can enhance retention of plant propagules, but also highlights the importance of understanding how restoration effects vary with flow. We detected no differences in riparian diversity between re-opened and disconnected side channels, but we did observe significant differences in species composition of both vascular plant and bryophyte communities. Disconnected sites had more floodplain species, whereas restored sites had more species characteristic of upland forest. This suggests that the reopening of side channels resulted in increased water levels, resulting in new riparian zones developing in former upland areas, but that the characteristic floodplain communities have not had time to develop in response to the restored fluvial regime. Objective (2) was approached by evaluating the effect of both natural anchor ice formation and experimentally created ice in the riparian zone. Riparian plant species richness and evenness proved to be higher in plots affected by anchor ice. Plants with their over-wintering organs above the ice sheet suffered from the treatment but the overall species richness increased in ice-treated plots. Objective (3) was evaluated by studying wood recruitment and movement, channel hydraulics, propagule retention and fish abundance in streams restored with large wood. Only one stream experienced reduced velocities after large wood addition. The large size and reduced velocity were probably also the reasons why this stream proved to be the best one in trapping natural, drifting wood. Increased retention and decreased mechanical fragmentation in large wood sites will lead to decreased loss of detritus from the site and therefore higher availability of coarse particulate organic matter which can result in more species rich shredder communities. Our study did not show that the occurrence of large wood had an important role in controlling density or biomass of brown trout.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Umeå: Umeå universitet, Institutionen för ekologi, miljö och geovetenskap , 2010. , 30 p.
Keyword [en]
riparian zone, timber floating, river restoration, cut-off side channels, hydrochory, large wood, anchor ice, fish
URN: urn:nbn:se:umu:diva-37827ISBN: 978-91-7459-083-8OAI: diva2:371630
Public defence
2010-12-16, Älgsalen, Uminova Science Park, Tvistevägen 48, Umeå, 13:00 (English)
Available from: 2010-11-25 Created: 2010-11-16 Last updated: 2010-12-08Bibliographically approved
List of papers
1. Effects of river ice on riparian vegetation
Open this publication in new window or tab >>Effects of river ice on riparian vegetation
2011 (English)In: Freshwater Biology, ISSN 0046-5070, E-ISSN 1365-2427, Vol. 56, no 6, 1095-1105 p.Article in journal (Refereed) Published
Abstract [en]

1.  Many rivers and streams experience pronounced ice dynamics caused by the formation of anchor and frazil ice, leading to flooding and disturbance of riparian and aquatic communities.  The effects of dynamic ice conditions on riverine biota are little known.

2.  We studied the formation of anchor ice in natural streams over 2 years, and assessed the effects of anchor ice on riparian vegetation by comparing sites with frequent or abundant and little or no anchor ice formation. We also studied the direct impact of ice on riparian plants by experimentally creating ice in the riparian zone over three winters, and by exposing plants of different life-forms to ‑18oC cold ice in the laboratory.

3.  Riparian species richness per 1-m2 plot was higher at sites affected by anchor ice than at sites where anchor ice was absent or rare. Dominance was lower at anchor ice sites, suggesting that ice disturbance enhanced species richness. Species composition was more homogenous among plots at anchor ice sites. Experimentally creating riparian ice corroborated the comparative results, with species richness increasing in ice-treated plots compared to controls, irrespective of whether the sites showed natural anchor ice.

4.  Because of human alterations of running waters, the natural effects of river ice on stream hydrology, geomorphology and ecology are little known.  Global warming in northern streams will lead to more dynamic ice conditions, offering new challenges for aquatic organisms and river management.  We expect that the results discussed here can stimulate new research, contributing to a better understanding of ecosystem function during winter.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Blackwell Publishing, 2011
anchor ice, frazil ice, riparian vegetation, rivers, Sweden
National Category
urn:nbn:se:umu:diva-38334 (URN)10.1111/j.1365-2427.2010.02553.x (DOI)
Available from: 2010-12-07 Created: 2010-12-07 Last updated: 2016-05-18Bibliographically approved
2. Effects of stream restoration on dispersal of plant propagules
Open this publication in new window or tab >>Effects of stream restoration on dispersal of plant propagules
2009 (English)In: Journal of Applied Ecology, ISSN 0021-8901, E-ISSN 1365-2664, Vol. 46, no 2, 397-405 p.Article in journal (Refereed) Published
Abstract [en]

1. Species immigration is vital for the success of restoring degraded ecosystems, but the effectiveness of enhancing dispersal following restoration is seldom evaluated. Running water is an important vector for plant dispersal. Frequency and duration of floods and channel-network complexity are important factors influencing propagule dispersal. In Sweden, these functions have been modified by channelization to facilitate timber floating, thus hampering emigration and immigration of riparian propagules.

2. During the last 10–20 years, affected watercourses have been restored by removing barriers and replacing boulders into channels. This is hypothesized to facilitate retention of water-dispersed propagules. We studied the efficiency of propagule retention following restoration by releasing propagule mimics and by placing propagule traps in the riparian zone.

3. Retention of propagule mimics was highest in sites restored with boulders and large wood. Retention occurred at both high and low flows but was most efficient during low flows when mimics were trapped by boulders and wood. Waterborne propagules ending up at such sites are unlikely to establish unless they can reach the riparian zone later. At high flows, floating propagules are more likely to reach riparian areas suitable for establishment. According to propagule traps placed at various levels of the riparian zone, deposition of plant propagules and sediments did not increase in restored sites.

4. Synthesis and applications. Our study not only demonstrates that restoration of channel complexity through replacement of boulders and wood can enhance retention of plant propagules, but also it highlights the importance of understanding how restoration effects vary with flow. Most streams are restored to function optimally during median or average flows, whereas communities often are controlled by ecological processes acting during extreme flow events. We advocate that stream restoration should be designed for optimal function during those discharges under which the ecological processes in question are most important, which in this case is, during high flow.

channelization, discharge levels, hydrochory, propagule retention, restoration, seed dispersal, timber floating
National Category
Natural Sciences
urn:nbn:se:umu:diva-20210 (URN)10.1111/j.1365-2664.2009.01612.x (DOI)000263859700017 ()
Available from: 2009-03-17 Created: 2009-03-17 Last updated: 2014-03-28Bibliographically approved
3. Effects of river restoration on riparian biodiversity in secondary channels of the Pite River, Sweden
Open this publication in new window or tab >>Effects of river restoration on riparian biodiversity in secondary channels of the Pite River, Sweden
Show others...
2012 (English)In: Environmental Management, ISSN 0364-152X, E-ISSN 1432-1009, Vol. 49, no 1, 130-141 p.Article in journal (Other academic) Published
Abstract [en]

Between 1850 and 1970, rivers throughout Sweden were channelized to facilitate timber floating.  Floatway structures were installed to streamline banks and disconnect flow to secondary channels, resulting in simplified channel morphologies and more homogenous flow regimes.  In recent years, local authorities have begun to restore channelized rivers.  In this study, we examined the effects of restoration on riparian plant communities at previously disconnected secondary channels of the Pite River.  We detected no increase in riparian diversity at restored sites relative to unrestored (i.e., disconnected) sites, but we did observe significant differences in species composition of both vascular plant and bryophyte communities.  At disconnected sites, plots closest to the stream featured greater representation of mesic-hydric floodplain species, whereas plots farthest from the stream featured greater representation of mesic-xeric species characteristic of the surrounding upland forest.  In contrast, restored sites were most strongly represented by upland species at all distances relative to the stream.  These patterns suggest that restoration has resulted in increased water levels in reconnected channels, but that the restored fluvial regime has not influenced the development of characteristic flood-adapted plant communities.  This may be due to the short time interval (ca. 5 years) since restoration.  Previous studies have demonstrated relatively quick responses to similar restoration in single-channel tributaries, but secondary channels may respond differently due to the more buffered hydrologic regimes typically seen in anabranching systems.  These findings illustrate how restoration outcomes can vary according to hydrologic, climatic and ecological factors, reinforcing the need for site-specific restoration strategies.

biodiversity, boreal, bryophyte, off-channel habitat, restoration, riparian, river, secondary channel, vegetation
National Category
urn:nbn:se:umu:diva-37825 (URN)10.1007/s00267-011-9773-6 (DOI)
Available from: 2010-11-16 Created: 2010-11-16 Last updated: 2016-05-18Bibliographically approved
4. Large wood restoration in boulder dominated streams
Open this publication in new window or tab >>Large wood restoration in boulder dominated streams
(English)Article in journal (Other academic) Submitted
Abstract [en]

1. An important aim of many restoration activities is to improve ecological structures and processes that have a central role for ecosystem functioning.  Large wood (LW) is such a component, affecting hydraulics, channel morphology, floodplain dynamics, and ecological communities.

2. We studied the effect of in-stream wood restoration, evaluating the difference before and after wood addition using boulder restored sites as controls. We investigated channel dynamics, movement and recruitment of large wood, retention of propagules and fish communities.

3. One of three streams experienced a reduced current velocity after LW placement. The width of the channel and the reduced velocity were probably the reasons why this stream trapped most naturally drifting wood. LW sites experienced increased retention of organic matter compared to control sites, but LW proved to be unimportant in controlling brown trout density and biomass.

4. Restoring habitat heterogeneity has been widely used to enhance ecological functioning, but during the last years its potential to restore streams and rivers has been questioned. In streams affected by multiple stressors, increased habitat heterogeneity is less important. Our result demonstrates that restoration with wood can enhance the restoration made with only boulders, and as a consequence advance ecological functioning.

large wood, boulders, timber floating, river restoration, propagule retention, fish
urn:nbn:se:umu:diva-37826 (URN)
Available from: 2010-11-16 Created: 2010-11-16 Last updated: 2010-11-25Bibliographically approved

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