Research Summaries


Compiled by Alan Carpenter

Ellison, C. A., Q. D. Skinner, and L. S. Hicks.
2009. Assessment of best-management practice effects on rangeland stream water quality using multivariate statistical techniques. Rangeland Ecology and Management 62: 371-386.

Quantifying the effects of watershed improvement efforts is critical to agencies responsible for protecting water resources of the semiarid western United States. A complex water quality data set collected from 1994 to 2004 of upper Muddy Creek Basin was subjected to cluster analysis, discriminant analysis, and canonical correlation analysis to improve understanding of basin fluvial processes and to investigate whether livestock grazing best-management practices (BMPs) improved the water quality of the watershed. Hierarchical agglomerative cluster analysis grouped nine sampling sites into two clusters based on similarity of biological indices, separating the clusters into aquatic communities more and less tolerant of degraded stream conditions. Discriminant analysis yielded strong spatial and temporal distinctions, providing important data reduction by rendering seven key parameters (total dissolved solids [TDS], temperature, elevation, slope, 10-dominant taxa, percent collector-gatherers, and percent Plecoptera) for the spatial variation and four parameters (TDS, dissolved oxygen, total taxa, and community tolerance quotient) for the temporal variation. Canonical correlation analysis identified strong negative relationships among Plecoptera taxa and total taxa with TDS and turbidity in addition to strong positive associations with elevation, slope, and channel substrate weighted embeddedness value. Despite the onset of severe drought midway through the study period, overall reductions of 13% for TDS and a 30% increase in macroinvertebrate total taxa occurred across years, strongly suggesting that improvements in water quality were correlated to BMPs that stabilized stream channels and improved the condition of riparian areas.


Aldridge, K. T., J. D. Brookes, G. G. Ganf.
2009. Rehabilitation of stream ecosystem functions through the reintroduction of coarse particulate organic matter. Restoration Ecology 17:96-107.

In streams, coarse particulate organic matter (CPOM) acts as a substrate for microbial activity, which promotes nutrient retention. However, in urban areas, increased peak flows within streams lead to decreased retention of CPOM. The aim of this study was to investigate whether the reintroduction of CPOM, in the form of leaf litter, into a degraded urban stream would increase biofilm activity and phosphorus retention, two ecosystem functions that reflect the integrity of the ecosystem. Stream metabolism and nutrient retention were assessed in treated (T) and control (C) channels of the Torrens River Catchment, South Australia, before and after CPOM addition. Gross primary production and community respiration (CR) were measured as oxygen production and consumption within benthic chambers. Phosphorus retention was measured through a series of short-term filterable reactive phosphorus (FRP) addition experiments. Before CPOM addition, there were no differences in CR, but C retained 6.8% more FRP than T. After CPOM addition, CR was greater in T than in C (572 and 276 mg O2·m-2·day-1, respectively), and T retained 7.7% more FRP than C. The increase in FRP retention in T compared to C was attributed to phosphorus limitation of the CPOM and increased demand for phosphorus of the attached microbial heterotrophic community. The reintroduction of CPOM into degraded streams will be an important step in the restoration of stream metabolism and nutrient retention. Maintenance of CPOM may be achieved through restoration of riparian vegetation, a reduction in the increased peak flows, and rehabilitation of stream morphology.


J. C. Stromberg, M. K. Chew, P. L. Nagler, and E. P. Glenn.
2009. Changing perceptions of Change: The role of scientists in Tamarix and river management. Restoration Ecology 17:177-186.

Initially introduced to western United States to provide ecosystem services such as erosion control, Tamarix by the mid-1900s had became vilified as a profligate waster of water. This large shrub continues, today, to be indicted for various presumed environmental and economic costs, and millions of dollars are expended on its eradication. In this review, we examine the role of scientists in driving changes in perceptions of Tamarix from valuable import to vilified invader and (in some instances) back to a productive member of riparian plant communities. Scientists over the years have sustained a negative perception of Tamarix by, among other things, (1) citing outmoded sources; (2) inferring causation from correlative studies; (3) applying conclusions beyond the scope (domain) of the studies; and (4) emphasizing findings that present the species as an extreme or unnatural agent of change. Recent research is challenging the prevailing dogma regarding Tamarix’s role in ecosystem function and habitat degradation and many scientists now recommend management shifts from “pest plant” eradication to systemic, process-based restoration. However, prejudice against this and other non-native species persists. To further close the gap between science and management, it is important for scientists to strive to (1) cite sources appropriately; (2) avoid reflexive antiexotic bias; (3) avoid war-based and pestilence-based terminology; (4) heed the levels of certainty and the environmental domain of studies; (5) maintain up-to-date information on educational Web sites; and (6) prior to undertaking restoration or management actions, conduct a thorough and critical review of the literature.


Stromberg, J. C., T. J. Rychener, and M. D. Dixon.
2009. Return of fire to a free-flowing desert river: effects on vegetation. Restoration Ecology 17:327-338.

After a long period in which fuel loads were sparse, fire recently has occurred with high frequency in the ungrazed riparian zone of the Upper San Pedro River in southern Arizona’s Chihuahuan Desert. We studied four accidental fires that occurred during 1994-2003 (two in different years at the same site). Woody vegetation was contrasted between three burned sites and matched spatial controls, and before and after the most recent fire. Herbaceous vegetation was sampled in multiple years producing a chronosequence of time since fire (from 4 months to 8 years). Riparian fire was associated with reductions in woody plant species diversity and canopy cover. In contrast, fire caused a short-term (2 year) pulse of herbaceous plant diversity, driven by annual species, and persistent increase in herbaceous cover. Path analysis indicated that the increase in herbaceous cover was mediated in part by the reduction in tree canopy cover. Ordination (nonmetric multidimensional scaling) and regression analysis also indicated that canopy cover and/or fire played a role in structuring the herbaceous community, although its effects were secondary to that of hydrologic factors (stream flow rate, seasonal flood size). By converting riparian forests to grasslands and savannahs, fire may be shifting structure of the Upper San Pedro floodplain vegetation closer toward conditions present during past centuries when fire was frequent in the upland desert grasslands and embedded riparian corridor.


Frase, B. A. and J. Cairns, Jr.
2009. Ecological restoration of Alder Creek, Colorado. Science and Society 7(1):5-8.

Partial ecological restoration of important attributes of Alder Creek, Gunnison County, CO, U.S.A., has been successful since the area has continued in its restored condition for over a decade. However, due to cattle grazing, the system is not self maintaining and, thus, requires continual management to remain in its present ecologically improved condition. Since the present holders of the Bureau of Land Management grazing permit will not request a renewal, the continuation of the current management practices by the next holder of the allotment is uncertain. Since this story has been an ecological success, demonstrating that cattle grazing need not destroy riparian habitat, the present practices should continue.

(The full article is available at