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Keywords:

  • cottonwoods;
  • dendrochronology;
  • Populus;
  • riparian vegetation;
  • river restoration

While riverine organisms are adapted to the natural flow regime, it is impractical to fully restore natural flows along most regulated rivers. We propose an alternative with the delivery of downscaled flow regimes that provide the seasonal patterns that are essential for aquatic and riparian ecosystems. The Bridge River in British Columbia provided a novel case study as a downscaled flow regime commenced in 2000 along a reach that had generally experienced no flow for the prior half-century. The experimental flow delivered a mean discharge of about 3 m3/s, versus the pre-dam mean of 100 m3/s, with a seasonal pattern that mimicked the natural snowmelt-dominated pattern. To assess the environmental response, we investigated black cottonwoods, Populus trichocarpa, the dominant riparian trees, in the pre-flow versus post-flow intervals, using tree ring interpretation for growth analyses and age determination. Sparse mature trees established prior to the 1948 damming did not show significant growth changes in the pre- versus post-flow intervals. In contrast, younger trees that established closer to the river in the decade prior to 2000 displayed significant growth increases by 2002, and juveniles established after 2000 demonstrated faster initial growth than juveniles established before 2000. Further, bands of cottonwood saplings resulted from seedling recruitment along the new river fringe, particularly in 2002, 2003, and 2004, years with gradual flow recession. These responses demonstrate that a downscaled, seasonal flow regime provided environmental benefit, thereby restoring some river function and resulting in a resized river flanked by narrow and reproducing cottonwood bands.