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Macrophytes respond to reach‐scale river restorations

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1. In recent years, river restoration science has been searching for biological indicators of improvement in the physical habitats of streams. To date, research has mainly focused on the use of fish and macroinvertebrates as indicators. Despite their importance in aquatic ecosystems, the response of macrophytes to habitat restoration has been rarely studied.

2. We investigated the macrophyte communities of 40 restored river reaches in the lowland and lower mountainous areas of Germany. Each restored reach was compared to an upstream, unrestored reach using a space‐for‐time‐substitution approach. At each reach, a 100 m stretch was surveyed for submerged and emergent macrophytes, recording the quantity, abundance and growth form of each species. Additionally, microhabitat patterns (substrate, depth, current velocity) and channel parameters (mean and bankfull width, number of channel elements) were recorded.

3. Restored reaches had a significantly higher macrophyte cover, richness, diversity and number of growth forms. Macrophyte diversity and richness were both positively correlated with depth, current and substrate.

4. The analysis of growth forms showed that Lemnids, Helodids, Parvopotamids, Elodids, Peplids and Juncids are all significant indicators of restoration. These species all responded directly to the restoration measures either by highly increasing in abundance or by being present in the restored reaches and absent in the unrestored reaches. While the restored reaches of the lowland rivers were characterized by a high abundance of Peplids and Parvopotamids, the restored reaches of the mountain rivers showed a significantly higher presence and abundance of Lemnids and Helodids.

5. Three macrophyte species (Lemna minor, Persicaria hydropiper, Potamogeton crispus) were regarded as significant indicators of restoration. No species were found to be indicators of unrestored reaches.

6. Synthesis and applications. Macrophyte communities benefit from river restoration by showing increased cover, abundance and diversity. The main drivers of this enhancement are more natural and diverse substrates and an increased floodplain area in the restored reaches, as well as a greater variability of current and depth patterns. Monitoring of macrophytes could thus be an easy and cost‐effective means to gauge the success of river restoration measures.
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Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Department of Applied Zoology/Hydrobiology, University of Duisburg-Essen, 45117 Essen, Germany

Publication date: February 1, 2012

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