River restoration: seeking ecological standards. Editor's introduction



    Corresponding author
    1. Department of Zoology, Ecology and Plant Science, University College Cork, Cork, Ireland
      Paul S. Giller, Department of Zoology, Ecology and Plant Science, University College Cork, Cork, Ireland. E-mail p.giller@ucc.ie
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Paul S. Giller, Department of Zoology, Ecology and Plant Science, University College Cork, Cork, Ireland. E-mail p.giller@ucc.ie


  • 1In the face of continuing anthropogenic stressors to freshwater systems world-wide, the natural resilience and resistance of the freshwater ecosystems that enables them to cope with or recover rapidly from certain levels of perturbation is under significant threat. In many systems, the changes brought about through human activities have significantly altered the physical habitat and ecological functioning of the natural systems.
  • 2Given the importance of freshwater systems in the provision of ecological services and diverse habitats for a huge range of species, there is a clear need for restoration that can maintain sustainable ecological services whilst reinstating ecosystem function and habitat range.
  • 3While restoration has been attracting huge financial investment in recent times, to date there has been little or no consensus as to what constitutes successful ecological restoration. The studies highlighted in this Special Profile attempt to meet this challenge. The Forum paper establishes a set of criteria or standards against which restoration projects can be evaluated, and these criteria are discussed by both practitioners and researchers in two Comment papers.
  • 4The five criteria proposed in the Forum paper include the establishment of a dynamic ecological endpoint to the restoration, providing for a ‘guiding image’ of a healthier river, and an improvement in the river's ecological condition, that ideally leads to a more self-sustaining and resilient system. No lasting harm should be inflicted on the system during the restoration, and pre- and post-assessment and monitoring must be incorporated into the overall restoration project. An additional sixth criterion is proposed in one of the Comment papers whereby a description or prediction of the ecological mechanisms should be determined through which the intended restoration strategy will achieve its goals
  • 5The kinds of mechanisms that might be involved are explored in three research articles in the Special Profile, centred on river systems that have been subject to regulation or channelization. The mitigation of the effects of river regulation measures and the successful restoration of floodplain ecosystems has a focus on re-establishing river flow dynamics (temporal heterogeneity) and connectivity of the river with the floodplain. Restoration of channelized systems is centred on increasing the structural (spatial) heterogeneity of the system.
  • 6Synthesis and applications. River restoration is a world-wide phenomenon of growing importance as we attempt to redress the problems that have arisen from our use and misuse of freshwater habitats and resources. The adoption of standards for ecologically successful river restoration promoted by Palmer et al. (2005), along with the clarifications raised in the Comment papers, will go a long way towards meeting this objective. There is a clear responsibility for funding agencies to undertake meaningful monitoring of restoration projects, not only to provide information on the effectiveness of the restoration in ecological terms, but also to provide much needed data to help establish further the science of restoration. The objective of this significant initiative is eventually to achieve approval of the standards by the sponsoring/funding agencies of restoration, by the practitioner community that carries out the restoration, and by the scientific research community. This will require much greater interaction between ecologists, the larger academic community and the practitioners, with the common goal of implementing more ecologically effective restoration projects, a goal that must also be embraced by the restoration project sponsors and regulators.