Strategies for Restoring River Ecosystems: Sources of Variability and Uncertainty in Natural and Managed Systems

4. Landscapes and Ecological Variability of Rivers in North America: Factors Affecting Restoration Strategies

F. R. Hauer, C. N. Dahm, G. A. Lamberti, and J. A. Stanford

doi: https://doi.org/10.47886/9781888569469.ch4

Abstract.—River ecosystem integrity is evaluated within a variety of landscape scales. We examine influences of variations in natural processes and human actions on river ecosystems and propose a concept for restoring impaired systems. The ecological structure and function of rivers vary across a hierarchy of landscape scales with different spatial and temporal dimensions. The major linkages within river systems include exchange of water and materials along longitudinal connections from streams to rivers, lateral connections between river and floodplain systems, and vertical surface and subsurface (hyporheic) water exchanges. Strong longitudinal linkages dominate confined river reaches while unconfined floodplain reaches show strong affinities for lateral and vertical exchange. A landscape concept, “the shifting habitat mosaic” (SHM), provides a framework for understanding how these interactions create and maintain the physical and ecological diversity of habitats, biotic communities, and ecosystem integrity. While each river system has unique physical and ecological characteristics, many human actions and ecological effects can be expressed within the SHM concept. For example, societal needs for power generation, transportation, water management, and land uses (e.g., urban and agricultural) often alter natural processes of hydrologic regimes and material transport and deposition. These factors affect interactions between the river channel and the surrounding river–riparian corridor. Restoration strategies can apply the SHM concept by focusing on restoring normative variations to processes (e.g., hydrologic regimes) that contribute to ecosystem integrity. Management practices (e.g., dam hydrologic regimes, flood control facilities, levees, land uses) can be modified to restore natural physical and ecological processes (e.g., thermal regimes, water exchange, and animal migrations).