Riparian ecosystems threatened by changing flood & drought conditions

Riparian ecosystems threatened by changing flood & drought conditions

Human demand for freshwater has resulted in substantial alterations to the natural flow pattern of rivers all over the world. Dams and other water diversion infrastructure impact riparian ecosystems by decreasing flooding frequency and interrupting valuable ecosystem services such as habitat availability and nutrient cycling. Simultaneously, climate change threatens riparian ecosystems by increasing flow intermittency and drought frequency.

A new study published last month in Nature Ecology & Evolution, co-authored by Dr. Julian Olden, Professor with the UW School of Aquatic and Fishery Sciences and part of the UW Freshwater Initiative, predicts how riparian ecosystems will respond to changing flood and drought conditions, the result of human-induced changes to water flow and climate change. Using population models and a holistic, network approach to thinking about rivers, the researchers found that increased drought conditions resulted in decreased connectivity, and thus decreased resilience, in interaction networks between plant guilds. Increased flow homogenization also decreased network connectivity, putting riparian communities at risk for biodiversity loss. Regular flooding is necessary to preserve the connectivity and resilience of dynamic river ecosystems into the future.

For the UW School of Aquatic and Fishery Sciences news announcement, click here.

To read the full research article, click here.