Effects of stream restoration on ecosystem functioning: detritus retentiveness and decomposition

Lepori, Fabio and PALM, Daniel and MALMQVIST, Björn (2005) Effects of stream restoration on ecosystem functioning: detritus retentiveness and decomposition. Journal of Applied Ecology, 42 (2). pp. 228-238. ISSN 00218901

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1. Increasing degradation of ecological conditions in streams because of human activities has prompted widespread restoration attempts; however, the ecological consequences of restoration remain poorly understood. We explored the effects of restoration through placement of boulders into the channel in the Ume River catchment in northern Sweden, where tributary streams were extensively channelized to facilitate the transport of timber in the 19th and early 20th centuries. Retentiveness and breakdown of coarse particulate organic matter (CPOM), two key ecological functions in low-order streams most likely to be affected by channelization, were compared between restored, channelized and unimpacted reference stream sites. 2. Artificial leaves were used to assess short-term CPOM retentiveness, while CPOM breakdown was estimated as the mass loss of alder (Alnus spp.) leaf packs placed in coarse mesh litter bags. Also, the taxonomic richness, abundance, biomass and evenness of the leaf-eating invertebrates (shredders) on the retrieved leaf material were quantified. Detailed field measurements were carried out to identify geomorphological and hydraulic controls of CPOM retentiveness and breakdown at the study sites. 3. CPOM retentiveness reflected most strongly the density of boulders and submerged woody debris at the study sites. Restored sites were on average twice as retentive as channelized sites and significantly more retentive than reference sites when discharge was controlled. 4. Current velocity at bank-full flow was the single most important predictor of CPOM mass loss, implying that mechanical fragmentation was substantial during high flows; other apparent controls of CPOM breakdown included water temperature and shredder abundance. CPOM mass loss was similar between restored and reference sites. However, breakdown was slightly faster at most channelized sites, consistent with higher hydraulic stress during high flow conditions. The shredder assemblages that colonized the litter bags were similar in richness, abundance, biomass and evenness between treatments. 5. Synthesis and applications. In channelized forest streams, low retentiveness and fast mechanical fragmentation during high flows contribute to the rapid depletion of benthic CPOM following leaf abscission in autumn, thereby weakening the heterotrophic energy pathways that probably support much of the biological production in these systems. Our results illustrate that restoration by replacement of boulders can successfully reverse these impacts of channelization and thus contribute to the efficient ecological functioning of impacted streams.

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