Restoring aquatic ecosystem connectivity requires expanding inventories of both dams and road crossings



A key challenge in aquatic restoration efforts is documenting locations where ecological connectivity is disrupted in water bodies that are dammed or crossed by roads (road crossings). To prioritize actions aimed at restoring connectivity, we argue that there is a need for systematic inventories of these potential barriers at regional and national scales. Here, we address this limitation for the North American Great Lakes basin by compiling the best available spatial data on the locations of dams and road crossings. Our spatial database documents 38 times as many road crossings as dams in the Great Lakes basin, and case studies indicate that, on average, only 36% of road crossings in the area are fully passable to fish. It is therefore essential that decision makers account for both road crossings and dams when attempting to restore aquatic ecosystem connectivity. Given that road crossing structures are commonly upgraded as part of road maintenance, many opportunities exist to restore connections within aquatic ecosystems at minimal added cost by ensuring upgrade designs permit water flow and the passage of fish and other organisms. Our findings highlight the necessity for improved dam and road crossing inventories that traverse political boundaries to facilitate the restoration of aquatic ecosystem connectivity from local to global scales.