Instream Wood Loads and Channel Complexity in Headwater Streams Under Alternative Stable States

Friday, 19 December 2014
Bridget Livers, Colorado State University, Geosciences, Fort Collins, CO, United States and Ellen Wohl, Colorado State University, Fort Collins, CO, United States
Channel morphology and irregularities in stream boundaries can create zones of flow separation, where lower velocities trap fine sediment and organic matter and increase opportunities for nutrient processing and biological uptake. This effect is most pronounced with channel-spanning structures such as logjams. Humans have changed the spatial and temporal characteristics of wood distribution in streams, with lasting effects on instream wood recruitment, wood loads, logjam distribution, and hydraulic roughness.

Previous studies in the Colorado Front Range show that contemporary headwater streams flowing through old-growth, unmanaged forests have more wood than streams flowing through younger-growth, managed forests, but do not evaluate the effects of wood on channel complexity. ‘Managed’ versus ‘unmanaged’ refers to whether forests were or are currently exposed to human alteration. Although some alteration has long since ceased, reduced wood loads in managed streams persist.

Our primary objective was to quantify differences in logjams, wood volumes, stream complexity, and organic carbon storage on streams with different management and disturbance histories in order to examine legacy effects across a gradient of stream management. Data were collected during the summers of 2013 and 2014 in the Southern Rocky Mountains. The 25 stream reaches studied are 2nd to 3rd order, subalpine streams that are categorized into: old-growth unmanaged forests; younger, naturally disturbed unmanaged forests; and younger managed forests.

We assessed instream and floodplain wood loads and logjams and evaluated the role that large wood plays in local channel complexity, pool volume, and storage of organic carbon. Preliminary results show that greatest wood and carbon storage in sediments, as well as channel complexity, occurs in streams in old-growth, unmanaged forests and the least wood and carbon storage and channel complexity occurs in younger-growth, managed forests.