Large woody debris "rewilding" rapidly restores biodiversity in riverine food webs.

Published online
02 May 2018
Content type
Journal article
Journal title
Journal of Applied Ecology

Thompson, M. S. A. & Brooks, S. J. & Sayer, C. D. & Woodward, G. & Axmacher, J. C. & Perkins, D. M. & Gray, C.
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Extensive habitat destruction and pollution have caused dramatic declines in aquatic biodiversity at local to global scales. In rivers, the reintroduction of large woody debris is a common method aimed at restoring degraded ecosystems through "rewilding." However, causal evidence for its effectiveness is lacking due to a dearth of replicated before-after control-impact field experiments. We conducted the first replicated experiment of large woody debris rewilding across multiple rivers and organisational levels, from individual target species populations to entire food webs. For the first time, we demonstrate causal links between habitat restoration, biodiversity restoration and food web responses. Populations of invertebrates and an apex predator, brown trout (Salmo trutta), increased, and food web analysis suggested increased biomass flux from basal resources to invertebrates and subsequently fishes within restored reaches. Synthesis and applications. This study contributes significant new evidence demonstrating that large woody debris rewilding can help to restore human-impacted river ecosystems, primarily through altering the abundance and biomass of consumers and resources in the food web. We also outline a means to gauge the magnitude of ecological responses to restoration, relative to environmental stressors, which could help to prioritise the most effective conservation efforts.

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