Large river floodplain restoration: predicting species richness and trait responses to the restoration of hydrological connectivity.
Floodplains are species-rich environments often strongly impacted by human activities. In particular, the negative effects of progressive and rapid disconnection of secondary channels have led to restoration programmes and a growing interest in restoration ecology. Current restoration strategies in large river floodplains focus on the macroinvertebrate response related to the increases in lateral connectivity of the secondary channels. We constructed a framework to assess a gradient of hydrological connectivity among 13 secondary channels and the main channel of a large river, and we modelled the response of a set of macroinvertebrate metrics to this gradient. Comparisons between predicted and observed metrics in restored channels allowed us to measure the effect of an increase in the hydrological connectivity on the biological characteristics of macroinvertebrate assemblages. The pre-restoration framework enabled a clear ordering of channels into three types according to levels of hydrological connectivity. Rarefied richness and species traits, responding to the connectivity gradient, showed a net difference between disconnected channels and the main river channel. We were able to highlight a predation-colonization trade-off along the gradient of hydrological connectivity with a maximum colonization potential in the most connected channels. Post-restoration sampling showed deviations of the restored channels from their expected ecological state. A large proportion of colonizers were favoured by the restoration operations and non-native species occurred in the restored channels. Synthesis and applications. Macroinvertebrate biodiversity in large river floodplains is shaped by lateral hydrological connectivity. Increasing hydrological connectivity led to an increase in colonization rate. One year after restoration, the increase in lateral connectivity had shifted the restored sites away from the predicted state. This unpredictability is, in part, a consequence of the rapid colonization by non-native species of new habitats created by the restoration measures. We recommend that floodplain-scale restoration should focus on diversification of the hydrological connectivity of channels, thereby conserving a maximum of functional characteristics in macroinvertebrate communities.