Title

Landscape context and the biophysical response of rivers to dam removal in the United States

Document Type

Article

Publication Date

7-10-2017

Publication Title

PLOS ONE

Abstract

Dams have been a fundamental part of the U. S. national agenda over the past two hundred years. Recently, however, dam removal has emerged as a strategy for addressing aging, obsolete infrastructure and more than 1,100 dams have been removed since the 1970s. However, only 130 of these removals had any ecological or geomorphic assessments, and fewer than half of those included before-and after-removal (BAR) studies. In addition, this growing, but limited collection of dam-removal studies is limited to distinct landscape settings. We conducted a meta-analysis to compare the landscape context of existing and removed dams and assessed the biophysical responses to dam removal for 63 BAR studies. The highest concentration of removed dams was in the Northeast and Upper Midwest, and most have been removed from 3 rd and 4 th order streams, in low-elevation (< 500 m) and low-slope (< 5%) watersheds that have small to moderate upstream watershed areas (10-1000 km 2) with a low risk of habitat degradation. Many of the BAR-studied removals also have these characteristics, suggesting that our understanding of responses to dam removals is based on a limited range of landscape settings, which limits predictive capacity in other environmental settings. Biophysical responses to dam removal varied by landscape cluster, indicating that landscape features are likely to affect biophysical responses to dam removal. However, biophysical data were not equally distributed across variables or clusters, making it difficult to determine which landscape features have the strongest effect on dam-removal response. To address the inconsistencies across dam-removal studies, we provide suggestions for prioritizing and standardizing data collection associated with dam removal activities.

DOI

10.1371/journal.pone.0180107

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