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Keywords:

  • biodiversity;
  • disturbance;
  • flood plain;
  • landscape ecology;
  • river ecology

1. A broadened concept of biodiversity, encompassing spatio-temporal heterogeneity, functional processes and species diversity, could provide a unifying theme for river ecology.

2. The theoretical foundations of stream ecology often do not reflect fully the crucial roles of spatial complexity and fluvial dynamics in natural river ecosystems, which has hindered conceptual advances and the effectiveness of efforts at conservation and restoration.

3. Inclusion of surface waters (lotic and lentic), subsurface waters (hyporheic and phreatic), riparian systems (in both constrained and floodplain reaches), and the ecotones between them (e.g. springs) as interacting components contributing to total biodiversity, is crucial for developing a holistic framework of rivers as ecosystems.

4. Measures of species diversity, including alpha, beta and gamma diversity, are a result of disturbance history, resource partitioning, habitat fragmentation and successional phenomena across the riverine landscape. A hierarchical approach to diversity in natural and altered river-floodplain ecosystems will enhance understanding of ecological phenomena operating at different scales along multidimensional environmental gradients.

5. Re-establishing functional diversity (e.g. hydrologic and successional processes) across the active corridor could serve as the focus of river conservation initiatives. Once functional processes have been reconstituted, habitat heterogeneity will increase, followed by corresponding increases in species diversity of aquatic and riparian biota.