Initial habitat response to incised channel rehabilitation



  • 1.Incised stream channel aquatic habitats typically are severely degraded. After the primary knickpoints or knickzones have passed, base flows are limited to shallow channels flanked by sandy berms within the enlarged high-flow channel. Riparian vegetation, woody debris and pool habitat are in short supply, and stream systems become disengaged from their floodplains.
  • 2.We hypothesized that habitat recovery might be accelerated in channels that have incised and are regaining equilibrium through deposition of sandy berms by placing rock spurs in the channel and by planting woody vegetation on the berms. On the basis of literature review and a pilot study, planting designs were developed for a large-scale field experiment: 2550 1.5 m long cuttings of native willow (Salix spp.) 2–25 cm in diameter were planted 1–1.2 m deep along the base-flow channel of an incised stream. A ridge of stone was placed on the water side of the plantings, and 17 rock spurs were constructed by extending existing spur dikes from the opposite bank.
  • 3.Woody cover along the treated bank increased from 38% to 66% of bankline after one growing season. Survival of individual plantings was reduced from an estimated 60% to an observed 34% by competition from the exotic kudzu vine, Pueraria lobata. Mean depth and mean scour hole depth, corrected for stage variation, increased 44% and 82%, respectively. Mean scour hole width increased 130%. The mean length of fish and the number of fish species approximately doubled, while the total weight of fish captured by a unit of sampling effort increased by an order of magnitude.