Building on Biodiversity with River Restoration

Wednesday, May 29, 2019

In a recent survey of 635 potential water restoration sites, volunteers found that 31% had natural levels of phosphate and nitrate, which means these water sources are clean enough to support new habitats. It goes to show how much opportunity there is for reinvigorating the biodiversity of rivers and surrounding habitats. This ecologic function of rivers is further strengthened by centring river restoration efforts on existing biodiversity hot spots. Not only are there greater impacts to be gained by focusing on areas with more different species at risk, but building on the foundation of existing biodiversity can ensure the success of a river restoration project. River ecosystems function through complicated hydromorphic processes that rely heavily on biodiversity and interconnection, so understanding biodiversity can help us to better approach river restoration projects.

Connect Existing Habitats

Biodiversity hotspots are often fragile ecosystems, with animals such as water voles, crayfish, and eels that have difficulty spreading or require particular terrain. Obviously, species like water voles that require more moisture than average do better around rivers and have trouble moving to new areas where they might thrive. Similarly, plants like watermint and brooklime need wet environments in which to grow. These unique plant and animal populations are part of the reason that river cruises are so popular. In particular, when dams and other structures interrupt the flow of rivers and streams, it hampers the ability of threatened species to move along natural water pathways in the case of habitat degradation or pollution at one point in the chain.

Support At-Risk Populations

By focusing on areas where these precarious plant and animal populations naturally occur, river restoration projects can have a bigger impact. With more species present and many of these threatened, restoring a single biodiversity hotspot can help preserve far more different species than would be the case in a less biodiverse area. The restoration of many of these plants and animals also supports the growth of further species. As fish return, so do kingfishers and otters. Similarly, bees can be affected by a lack of water, and restoring a river can bring bee populations back, along with their many positive effects for local plants.

Better Understand River Ecosystems

Finally, focusing on areas rich in biodiversity can help us better understand river ecosystems. Rivers and wetlands are incredibly varied and unique habitats, so the more we can learn about different species and how they interact with these habitats the better. Working with biodiverse areas can also help us understand the fragile connections made in these habitats, which are defined by their complex nature. This knowledge can then be used to improve river restoration efforts in any region, which is itself a vital part of ecological development overall. So, increasing our knowledge of rivers and how they interact with complex ecosystems starts with river restoration in biodiversity hot spots and other highly fragile habitats, to the benefit of ecology efforts in general.

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