Effects of stream restoration on dispersal of plant propagules.

Published online
15 Apr 2009
Content type
Journal article
Journal title
Journal of Applied Ecology

Engström, J. & Nilsson, C. & Jansson, R.
Contact email(s)

Publication language
Nordic Countries & Sweden


Species immigration is vital for the success of restoring degraded ecosystems, but the effectiveness of enhancing dispersal following restoration is seldom evaluated. Running water is an important vector for plant dispersal. Frequency and duration of floods and channel-network complexity are important factors influencing propagule dispersal. In Sweden, these functions have been modified by channelization to facilitate timber floating, thus hampering emigration and immigration of riparian propagules. During the last 10-20 years, affected watercourses have been restored by removing barriers and replacing boulders into channels. This is hypothesized to facilitate retention of water-dispersed propagules. We studied the efficiency of propagule retention following restoration by releasing propagule mimics and by placing propagule traps in the riparian zone. Retention of propagule mimics was highest in sites restored with boulders and large wood. Retention occurred at both high and low flows but was most efficient during low flows when mimics were trapped by boulders and wood. Waterborne propagules ending up at such sites are unlikely to establish unless they can reach the riparian zone later. At high flows, floating propagules are more likely to reach riparian areas suitable for establishment. According to propagule traps placed at various levels of the riparian zone, deposition of plant propagules and sediments did not increase in restored sites. Synthesis and applications. Our study not only demonstrates that restoration of channel complexity through replacement of boulders and wood can enhance retention of plant propagules, but also it highlights the importance of understanding how restoration effects vary with flow. Most streams are restored to function optimally during median or average flows, whereas communities often are controlled by ecological processes acting during extreme flow events. We advocate that stream restoration should be designed for optimal function during those discharges under which the ecological processes in question are most important, which in this case is, during high flow.

Key words