Testing the field of dreams hypothesis: functional responses to urbanization and restoration in stream ecosystems.

Journal Article (Journal Article)

As catchments become increasingly urban, the streams that drain them become increasingly degraded. Urban streams are typically characterized by high-magnitude storm flows, homogeneous habitats, disconnected riparian zones, and elevated nitrogen concentrations. To reverse the degradation of urban water quality, watershed managers and regulators are increasingly turning to stream restoration approaches. By reshaping the channel and reconnecting the surface waters with their riparian zone, practitioners intend to enhance the natural nutrient retention capacity of the restored stream ecosystem. Despite the exponential growth in stream restoration projects and expenditures, there has been no evaluation to date of the efficacy of urban stream restoration projects in enhancing nitrogen retention or in altering the underlying ecosystem metabolism that controls instream nitrogen consumption. In this study, we compared ecosystem metabolism and nitrate uptake kinetics in four stream restoration projects within urban watersheds to ecosystem functions measured in four unrestored urban stream segments and four streams draining minimally impacted forested watersheds in central North Carolina, U.S.A. All 12 sites were surveyed in June through August of 2006 and again in January through March of 2007. We anticipated that urban streams would have enhanced rates of ecosystem metabolism and nitrate uptake relative to forested streams due to the increases in nutrient loads and temperature associated with urbanization, and we predicted that restored streams would have further enhanced rates for these ecosystem functions by virtue of their increased habitat heterogeneity and water residence times. Contrary to our predictions we found that stream metabolism did not differ between stream types in either season and that nitrate uptake kinetics were not different between stream types in the winter. During the summer, restored stream reaches had substantially higher rates of nitrate uptake than unrestored or forested stream reaches; however, we found that variation in stream temperature and canopy cover explained 80% of the variation across streams in nitrate uptake. Because the riparian trees are removed during the first stage of natural channel design projects, the restored streams in this study had significantly less canopy cover and higher summer temperatures than the urban and forested streams with which they were compared.

Full Text

Duke Authors

Cited Authors

  • Sudduth, EB; Hassett, BA; Cada, P; Bernhardt, ES

Published Date

  • September 2011

Published In

Volume / Issue

  • 21 / 6

Start / End Page

  • 1972 - 1988

PubMed ID

  • 21939038

International Standard Serial Number (ISSN)

  • 1051-0761

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)

  • 10.1890/10-0653.1


  • eng