In floodplain ecosystems, the lateral hydrological connectivity between the main river channel and the secondary channels plays a major role in shaping both the habitat conditions and the macroinvertebrate diversity. Among other threats, human activities tend to reduce the lateral connectivity, which increases floodplain terrestrialization and induces a loss of aquatic biodiversity. Consequently, the restoration of lateral connectivity is of growing concern. We studied four secondary channels of the Rhône floodplain that were subjected either to no restoration or to three different restoration measures (river flow increase only, flow increase plus dredging and flow increase plus reconnection to the river). Macroinvertebrate and environmental data were analysed one year before and during a period of five years after restoration. We expected a progressive increase of lateral connectivity according to the type of restoration. Changes in macroinvertebrate assemblages were predicted to be towards more rheophilic communities and proportionally related to the changes in lateral connectivity.
In the reconnected channel, lateral connectivity increased and remained high five years after restoration. In the dredged channel, the immediate increase of the lateral connectivity metric induced by sediment removal was followed by a rapid decrease. In the unrestored channel and the channel only influenced by flow increase, the metric remained constant in time. The macroinvertebrate composition and the rarefied EPT richness changes were proportionally related to the changes in lateral connectivity. Alien species richness and densities increased progressively in all channels after restoration. Our results showed that modifications of the lateral connectivity lead to predictable changes in macroinvertebrate diversity. Synergistic interactions between restoration and longer-term changes (e.g. climatic change, invasion of alien species) encourage long-term monitoring to assess the durability and trends of restoration measures. Copyright © 2012 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.