Fluvial wood function downstream of beaver versus man-made dams in headwater streams in Massachusetts, USA

Friday, 19 December 2014
Gabrielle C David, Lauren F DeVito, Keila T Munz and Grace Lisius, Boston College, Earth and Environmental Sciences, Chestnut Hill, MA, United States
Fluvial wood is an essential component of stream ecosystems by providing habitat, increasing accumulation of organic matter, and increasing the processing of nutrients and other materials. However, years of channel alterations in Massachusetts have resulted in low wood loads despite the afforestation that has occurred since the early 1900s. Streams have also been impacted by a large density of dams, built during industrialization, and reduction of the beaver population. Beavers were reintroduced to Massachusetts in the 1940s and they have since migrated throughout the state. Beaver dams impound water, which traps sediment and results in the development of complex channel patterns and more ecologically productive and diverse habitats than those found adjacent to man-made dams. To develop better management practices for dam removal it is essential that we understand the geomorphic and ecologic function of wood in these channels and the interconnections with floodplain dynamics and stream water chemistry.

We investigate the connections among fluvial wood, channel morphology, floodplain soil moisture dynamics, and stream water chemistry in six watersheds in Massachusetts that have been impacted by either beaver or man-made dams. We hypothesize that wood load will be significantly higher below beaver dams, subsequently altering channel morphology, water chemistry, and floodplain soil moisture. Reaches are surveyed up- and downstream of each type of dam to better understand the impact dams have on the fluvial system. Surveys include a longitudinal profile, paired with dissolved oxygen and ammonium measurements, cross-section and fluvial wood surveys, hydraulic measurements, and floodplain soil moisture mapping. We found that dissolved oxygen mirrored the channel morphology, but did not vary significantly between reaches. Wood loads were significantly larger downstream of beaver dams, which resulted in significant changes to the ammonium levels. Floodplain soil moisture dynamics revealed that wood loads increased the channel complexity and strengthened connections between the stream channel and floodplain. Future work will continue to explore the complex interconnections between beaver dams, channel morphology, hydraulics, floodplain dynamics and water chemistry.