Effects of urbanization and urban stream restoration on the physical and biological structure of stream ecosystems.

Journal Article (Journal Article)

Streams, as low-lying points in the landscape, are strongly influenced by the stormwaters, pollutants, and warming that characterize catchment urbanization. River restoration projects are an increasingly popular method for mitigating urban insults. Despite the growing frequency and high expense of urban stream restoration projects, very few projects have been evaluated to determine whether they can successfully enhance habitat structure or support the stream biota characteristic of reference sites. We compared the physical and biological structure of four urban degraded, four urban restored, and four forested streams in the Piedmont region of North Carolina to quantify the ability of reach-scale stream restoration to restore physical and biological structure to urban streams and to examine the assumption that providing habitat is sufficient for biological recovery. To be successful at mitigating urban impacts, the habitat structure and biological communities found in restored streams should be more similar to forested reference sites than to their urban degraded counterparts. For every measured reach- and patch-scale attribute, we found that restored streams were indistinguishable from their degraded urban stream counterparts. Forested streams were shallower, had greater habitat complexity and median sediment size, and contained less-tolerant communities with higher sensitive taxa richness than streams in either urban category. Because heavy machinery is used to regrade and reconfigure restored channels, restored streams had less canopy cover than either forested or urban streams. Channel habitat complexity and watershed impervious surface cover (ISC) were the best predictors of sensitive taxa richness and biotic index at the reach and catchment scale, respectively. Macroinvertebrate communities in restored channels were compositionally similar to the communities in urban degraded channels, and both were dissimilar to communities in forested streams. The macroinvertebrate communities of both restored and urban degraded streams were correlated with environmental variables characteristic of degraded urban systems. Our study suggests that reach-scale restoration is not successfully mitigating for the factors causing physical and biological degradation.

Full Text

Duke Authors

Cited Authors

  • Violin, CR; Cada, P; Sudduth, EB; Hassett, BA; Penrose, DL; Bernhardt, ES

Published Date

  • September 2011

Published In

Volume / Issue

  • 21 / 6

Start / End Page

  • 1932 - 1949

PubMed ID

  • 21939035

International Standard Serial Number (ISSN)

  • 1051-0761

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)

  • 10.1890/10-1551.1


  • eng