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Aquatic Trophic Productivity model: A decision support model for river restoration planning in the Methow River, Washington

May 19, 2016


The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) has developed a dynamic food-web simulation model to provide decision support for Bureau of Reclamation (Reclamation) river restoration projects in the Methow River, Washington. This modeling effort was done to contribute to Reasonable and Prudent Alternative actions 56 and 57of the 2014 Federal Columbia River Power System Biological Opinion (FCRPS BO), which calls for exploration of modeling as a means to help evaluate Endangered Species Act (ESA)-listed fish response to river restoration efforts. In the Methow River, these species of concern include Upper Columbia River (UCR) spring Chinook salmon (Oncorhynchus tshawytscha) and UCR summer steelhead (Oncorhynchus mykiss). Additionally, the Independent Scientific Advisory Board (ISAB) for the Columbia River has identified the need for modeling (Independent Scientific Advisory Board, 2011a)—including models that incorporate food-web dynamics (Independent Scientific Advisory Board, 2011b)—to better understand how restoration and management strategies might enhance salmon and steelhead populations.

Dynamic food-web models, even relatively simple ones, can be valuable tools for exploring responses to river restoration. Although these models have rarely been applied to rivers and streams (but see Mcintire and Colby, 1978; Power and others, 1995), they are commonly used for management decisions in terrestrial and ocean ecosystems (Christensen and Pauly, 1993; Evans and others, 2013). One of the main strengths of these models is that they are rooted in the fundamental laws of thermodynamics (that is, mass balance). Moreover, these models can be easily adapted to different contexts by adding or subtracting different species from the web and by mechanistically linking the dynamics of web members to local environmental conditions, such as water temperature, stream discharge, and channel hydraulics (Power and others, 1995; Doyle, 2006). Alternative management actions can then be evaluated by changing these environmental conditions to simulate potential outcomes following restoration.

In this report, we outline the structure of a stream food-web model constructed to explore how alternative river restoration strategies may affect stream fish populations. We have termed this model the “Aquatic Trophic Productivity model” (ATP). We present the model structure, followed by three case study applications of the model to segments of the Methow River watershed in northern Washington. For two case studies (middle Methow River and lower Twisp River floodplain), we ran a series of simulations to explore how food-web dynamics respond to four distinctly different, but applied, strategies in the Methow River watershed: (1) reconnection of floodplain aquatic habitats, (2) riparian vegetation planting, (3) nutrient augmentation (that is, salmon carcass addition), and (4) enhancement of habitat suitability for fish. For the third case study, we conducted simulations to explore the potential fish and food-web response to habitat improvements conducted in 2012 at the Whitefish Island Side Channel, located in the middle Methow River.

Citation Information

Publication Year 2016
Title Aquatic Trophic Productivity model: A decision support model for river restoration planning in the Methow River, Washington
DOI 10.3133/ofr20161075
Authors Joseph R. Benjamin, J. Ryan Bellmore
Publication Type Report
Publication Subtype USGS Numbered Series
Series Title Open-File Report
Series Number 2016-1075
Index ID ofr20161075
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Forest and Rangeland Ecosystem Science Center