Effects of re-braiding measures on hydromorphology, floodplain vegetation, ground beetles and benthic invertebrates in mountain rivers.
Medium-sized and large mountain rivers are among the most degraded river types in Europe and numerous river restoration projects are currently carried out to achieve 'good ecological status'. Surprisingly little is known about the effects of river restoration measures on aquatic and terrestrial organisms. We investigated the effects of restoration on hydromorphology, floodplain vegetation, ground beetles and benthic invertebrates of Central European mountain rivers by comparing seven restored, multiple-channel sections with seven nearby non-restored, straight sections. Floodplain mesohabitats and aquatic microhabitats were recorded along 20 transects per river section (200 m long). Samples of floodplain vegetation (444 samples), ground beetles (153) and benthic invertebrates (134) were taken per habitat type and section. Two hydromorphological metrics and 13 biotic metrics were calculated. The number of floodplain mesohabitats was significantly higher in restored sections, but there was no significant effect on the number of aquatic microhabitats. Floodplain vegetation reacted most strongly to restoration, with more vegetation assemblages and higher number of species in restored sections. The number of ground beetle species also increased, but there was no effect on number of species or diversity of benthic invertebrates. Habitat composition and assemblages were compared by cluster analysis. When using mesohabitat data, restored vs. non-restored sections clustered to separate groups, while the use of aquatic microhabitat data produced mixed groups. Floodplain vegetation data clustered in restored and non-restored sections. For benthic invertebrates, the restored and non-restored sections of each individual river were always clustered together. Ground beetle assemblages responded more strongly to restoration than benthic invertebrates but less than floodplain vegetation. Synthesis and applications. River restoration measures which re-created multiple-channel patterns differ in their effect on floodplain vegetation, ground beetles and benthic invertebrates. The strong increase in the number of floodplain vegetation species is due to the creation of additional habitats, while riparian ground beetles react mainly to the increased availability of gravel bars. The lack of response of benthic invertebrates to restoration measures is due to the comparatively small changes in aquatic microhabitat composition. Our results indicate that floodplain habitats react more strongly to re-braiding as a restoration measure compared to in-stream habitats and that floodplain communities might be best suited to judge the immediate effects of restoration.