SESYNC Director Co-Authors a Review on Restoration of River Flow Regimes in Science


SESYNC Director Margaret Palmer recently co-authored a review published in Science, titled “Linkages between flow regime, biota, and ecosystem processes: Implications for river restoration.” Palmer wrote the review with former SESYNC postdoctoral fellow Albert Ruhi, who is currently an assistant professor in the Department of Environmental, Science, Policy, and Management, at the University of California, Berkeley.

While the science of river restoration most often measures river health by focusing on how species of interest recover after restoration, Palmer and Ruhi instead looked at the connection between flow regime, biota, and ecosystem processes.

Palmer said, “The paper reviews research advances in understanding how river flow regimes (the timing, frequency, and duration of water flows of different magnitudes) influence: 1) river fauna – because they evolved in the context of historic flows that characterize a river, their survival is often compromised by changes to the flow by say dams or urbanization; and 2) river ecosystem functioning like rates of river metabolism (production and use of oxygen and carbon dioxide) or rates of nutrient use and release.”   

Palmer added that “While most restoration ecologists believe that to restore rivers, we must restore the physical processes (e.g., flow regime) and ecosystem processes (e.g., river metabolism) that support self-sustaining ecosystems, we found very little research that addressed the link between flow, ecosystem processes and biota.”

Palmer and Ruhi believe this lack of research is hindering the progress in restoring species of interest or native biodiversity and the needed link is to expand the understanding of microbial processes that are likely the glue between processes and organisms in streams.

Ruhi said, “Tackling this research challenge will improve our ability to predict ecosystem-level responses to river degradation—or outcomes that should be expected if we choose to restore the flow regime.” 

Ruhi recently sat down for a Question and Answer about the paper with the University of Berkeley. Read the full interview here.