Ecosystem response to dam removal

University dissertation from Umeå : Umeå universitet

Abstract: This thesis aims to improve our understanding of how riverine ecosystems respond to dam removal. Riverine and particularly riparian ecosystems are among the most variable and important features of all landscapes. They connect landscape elements both longitudinally and laterally, and are governed by processes such as flooding, erosion and deposition that create dynamic, diverse and heterogeneous habitats. In fact, riparian zones are among the world’s most species-rich habitats. Worldwide there are millions of dams that fragment stream and river systems, regulate flows and degrade ecosystems. Dams impact freshwater, marine and terrestrial ecosystems and threaten biodiversity by disrupting organism movements and energy flows in the landscape. An important upstream effect of dams is inundation of habitats and development of new shorelines around impounded areas. Effects downstream of dams are mainly caused by changed hydrological regimes and retention of organic and inorganic materials in reservoirs, leading to reduced transport and dispersal of for example seeds to reaches downstream. The removal of dams create expectations that biota will eventually recover. We have studied a number of dam removal projects in Sweden. Our experimental results showed that following dam removal, newly exposed soils in former impoundments were rapidly colonized by pre-removal species. Their species richness increased slightly with time and their species composition indicated a slow change towards that in the reference site. In addition, the vegetation in formerly impounded areas showed a direction of change from lentic riparian plants (high proportion of aquatics) towards lotic ones, consisting of native perennials typical of free-flowing streams. We also found that the apprehensions that former impoundments would turn into pools of mud did not come true; in fact, a process towards more pristine channel morphology was observed. After removal there was erosion and downstream transport of sediment. We found only minor effects on macroinvertebrate communities. For example, a few species decreased over the years, suggesting that dam removal in itself might cause a temporary disturbance. This highlights the importance of long-term studies after dam removal, and also the importance of comparisons with pre-removal conditions and stretches unaffected by dams. Thorough documentation of executed dam removal projects and distribution of the results and experiences are tremendously important in the planning process of future decommissioning projects. Also, our experiences have taught us that in order to attain a successful dam removal it is important to involve stakeholders such as non-governmental organizations and local inhabitants in the process.

  This dissertation MIGHT be available in PDF-format. Check this page to see if it is available for download.