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Restoration of dead wood in Basque stream channels: effects on brown trout population


A. Antón, Department of Zoology and Animal Cell Biology, Science and Technology Faculty, University of the Basque Country UPV/EHU, PO Box 644, E-48080 Bilbao, Basque Country, Spain. E-mail:


Abstract –  Streams in the Aiako Harria Natural Park (Basque Country, Spain) have excellent water quality, but are physically impoverished after centuries of snagging. In an attempt to restore channel complexity and ecosystem functioning, especially in-channel retention of sediments and organic matter, large woody debris (LWD) was introduced into four mountain streams (channel width 3–13 m) following a before/after, control/impact (BACI) design. Logs were introduced by means of hand-held machinery and located uncabled, mimicking the natural amount and disposition of LWD in streams. Floods disrupted most of the structures at the large stream, but caused little damage to those in the small ones. Only minnow and brown trout inhabit in the area. Before wood addition, trout densities were fairly high in the small streams, low in the large one, where recruitment seemed very poor. In the small tributaries, trout populations showed a strong imbalance towards young fish, adults being only found in the spawning season. Wood addition produced some interesting trends in trout, although statistical significance was low as a result of large environmental variability. Fish densities showed small changes, but biomass increased, especially in the spawning season. Also, there was a trend towards more aged 2+ or larger, thus suggesting wood addition improved adult habitat. Although restoring LWD is extremely unusual in Spain, the changes in physical habitat and the trends in fish populations detected in the present project suggest it is worth making more experiments, at least in safe settings where there is no risk of flooding or damaging properties.