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

July 11, 2017

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 3rd and 4th order streams, in low-elevation (< 500 m) and low-slope (< 5%) watersheds that have small to moderate upstream watershed areas (10–1000 km2) 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.

Citation Information

Publication Year 2017
Title Landscape context and the biophysical response of rivers to dam removal in the United States
DOI 10.1371/journal.pone.0180107
Authors Melissa M. Foley, Francis J. Magilligan, Christian E. Torgersen, Jon J. Major, Chauncey W. Anderson, Patrick J. Connolly, Daniel J. Wieferich, Patrick B. Shafroth, James E. Evans, Dana M. Infante, Laura Craig
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title PLoS ONE
Index ID 70189313
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Forest and Rangeland Ecosystem Science Center; Oregon Water Science Center; Pacific Coastal and Marine Science Center; John Wesley Powell Center for Analysis and Synthesis; Core Science Analytics, Synthesis, and Libraries