Experimental reintroduction of woody debris on the Williams River, NSW: geomorphic and ecological responses



A total of 436 logs were used to create 20 engineered log jams (ELJs) in a 1.1 km reach of the Williams River, NSW, Australia, a gravel-bed river that has been desnagged and had most of its riparian vegetation removed over the last 200 years. The experiment was designed to test the effectiveness of reintroducing woody debris (WD) as a means of improving channel stability and recreating habitat diversity. The study assessed geomorphic and ecological responses to introducing woody habitat by comparing paired test and control reaches. Channel characteristics (e.g. bedforms, bars, texture) within test and control reaches were assessed before and after wood placement to quantify the morphological variability induced by the ELJs in the test reach. Since construction in September 2000, the ELJs have been subjected to five overtopping flows, three of which were larger than the mean annual flood. A high-resolution three-dimensional survey of both reaches was completed after major bed-mobilizing flows. Cumulative changes induced by consecutive floods were also assessed. After 12 months, the major geomorphologic changes in the test reach included an increase in pool and riffle area and pool depth; the addition of a pool–riffle sequence; an increase by 0.5–1 m in pool–riffle amplitude; a net gain of 40 m3 of sediment storage per 1000 m2 of channel area (while the control reach experienced a net loss of 15 m3/1000 m2 over the same period); and a substantial increase in the spatial complexity of bed-material distribution. Fish assemblages in the test reach showed an increase in species richness and abundance, and reduced temporal variability compared to the reference reach, suggesting that the changes in physical habitat were beneficial to fish at the reach scale. Copyright © 2004 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.