Ecological state of a mountain river before and after a large flood: Implications for river status assessment

Sci Total Environ. 2018 Jan 1:610-611:244-257. doi: 10.1016/j.scitotenv.2017.07.162. Epub 2017 Aug 10.


Assessment of the ecological status of rivers is key to monitoring the achievement of the environmental goal of the EU Water Framework Directive and the success of restoration projects. In summer of 2009 and 2010, repeated assessments of physical habitat conditions and of fish and benthic invertebrate communities were performed at low-flow conditions in 10 unmanaged and 10 channelized cross-sections of the Biała River, Polish Carpathians. Between the two surveys, an 80-year flood occurred, significantly affecting habitat characteristics and river communities. In unmanaged cross-sections, active channel width increased, whereas the degree of cross-sectional variation of flow velocity decreased. In channelized cross-sections, the increase in active channel width and the cross-sectional variation of flow velocity was accompanied by a decrease in bed-material grain size. Before the flood, the unmanaged cross-sections hosted 2.3 times more benthic invertebrate taxa than the channelized ones, whereas after the flood, the number of taxa they supported was so reduced that the taxonomic richness of benthic invertebrate assemblages in both cross-section types became similar. In comparison to pre-flood conditions, the abundance of fish juveniles (YOY) in unmanaged cross-sections was reduced nearly by half; before the flood they hosted 5 times more juvenile individuals than channelized cross-sections and only twice as many after the flood. Finally, a differing assessment of flood impact on the ecological river quality was obtained with the invertebrate-based BMWP-PL index and the European Fish Index, with the former indicating a significant reduction of the quality in unmanaged cross-sections and the latter pointing to no such change. The results indicate that assessments performed before or after a major flood may yield significantly different results for the quality of abiotic and biotic elements of the river ecosystem. Final assessment should thus be based on repeated surveys to balance the effect of extreme hydrological events.

Keywords: Benthic invertebrates; Ecological river quality; Fish fauna; Gravel-bed river; Physical habitat conditions.