The riverine ecosystem synthesis: biocomplexity in river networks across space and time

Authors

  • James H. Thorp,

    Corresponding author
    1. Kansas Biological Survey and Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Higuchi Hall, University of Kansas, 2101 Constant Ave., Lawrence, KS 66047-3759, USA
    • Kansas Biological Survey and Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Higuchi Hall, University of Kansas, 2101 Constant Ave., Lawrence, KS 66047-3759, USA.
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  • Martin C. Thoms,

    1. Cooperative Research Centre for Freshwater Ecology, University of Canberra, Canberra, ACT 2601, Australia
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  • Michael D. Delong

    1. Large River Studies Center and Department of Biology, Winona State University, Winona, MN 55987, USA
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Abstract

We propose an integrated, heuristic model of lotic biocomplexity across spatiotemporal scales from headwaters to large rivers. This riverine ecosystem synthesis (RES) provides a framework for understanding both broad, often discontinuous patterns along longitudinal and lateral dimensions of river networks and local ecological patterns across various temporal and smaller spatial scales. Rather than posing a completely new model, we arrange a conceptual marriage of eco-geomorphology (ecological aspects of fluvial geomorphology) with a terrestrial landscape model describing hierarchical patch dynamics. We modify five components of this terrestrial model for lotic ecosystems: (1) nested, discontinuous hierarchies of patch mosaics; (2) ecosystem dynamics as a composite of intra- and inter-patch dynamics; (3) linked patterns and processes; (4) dominance of non-equilibrial and stochastic processes; and (5) formation of a quasi-equilibrial, metastable state. Our conceptual model blends our perspectives on biocomplexity with aspects of aquatic models proposed from 1980–2004.

Contrasting with a common view of rivers as continuous, longitudinal gradients in physical conditions, the RES portrays rivers as downstream arrays of large hydrogeomorphic patches (e.g. constricted, braided and floodplain channel areas) formed by catchment geomorphology and climate. The longitudinal distribution of these patches, which are identifiable using standard geomorphic techniques, varies amongst rivers and is difficult to forecast above ecoregional scales. Some types of hydrogeomorphic patches may reoccur along this downstream passage. Unique ecological ‘functional process zones’ are formed by individual types of hydrogeomorphic patches because of physiochemical habitat differences which affect ecosystem structure and function.

The RES currently includes 14 tenets predicting how patterns of individual species distributions, community regulation, lotic ecosystem processes, and floodplain interactions will vary over spatiotemporal scales, especially as they relate to the functional process zones formed by hydrogeomorphic differences in the river network. Copyright © 2006 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

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