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Inside the “Black Box” of River Restoration: Using Catchment History to Identify Disturbance and Response Mechanisms to Set Targets for Process-Based Restoration

Sarah Mika, School of Environmental and Rural Science, University of New England, Australia
Joanna Hoyle, Department of Environment and Geography, Macquarie University
Garreth Kyle, Department of Biological Sciences, Macquarie University
Timothy Howell, Australian Rivers Institute, Griffith University
Benjamin Wolfenden, School of Environmental and Rural Science, University of New England, Australia
Darren Ryder, School of Environmental and Rural Science, University of New England, Australia
Daniel Keating, Department of Environment and Geography, Macquarie University
Andrew Boulton, School of Environmental and Rural Science, University of New England, Australia
Gary Brierley, School of Geography, Geology and Environmental Science, University of Auckland
Andrew P Brooks, Australian Rivers Institute, Griffith University
Kirstie Fryirs, Department of Environment and Geography, Macquarie University
Michelle Leishman, Department of Biological Sciences, Macquarie University
Mark Sanders, Department of Environment and Geography, Macquarie University
Angela Arthington, Australian Rivers Institute, Griffith University
Robert Creese, NSW Department of Industry and Innovation, Port Stephens Fisheries Centre, Australia
Mark Dahm, School of Environmental and Rural Science, University of New England, Australia
Craig Miller, Department of Environment and Geography, Macquarie University
Brad Pusey, Australian Rivers Institute, Griffith University
Alexandra Spink, Department of Environment and Geography, Macquarie University

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Abstract

Many river restoration projects fail. Inadequate project planning underpins many of the reasons given for failure (such as setting overly ambitious goals; selecting inappropriate sites and techniques; losing stakeholder motivation; and neglecting to monitor, assess, and document projects). Another major problem is the lack of an agreed guiding image to direct the activities aimed at restoring the necessary biophysical and ecological processes within the logistic constraints of on-ground works. Despite a rich literature defining the components of restoration project planning, restoration ecology currently lacks an explicit and logical means of moving from the initial project vision through to on-ground strategies. Yet this process is fundamental because it directly links the ecological goals of the project to the on-ground strategies used to achieve them. We present a planning process that explicitly uses an interdisciplinary mechanistic model of disturbance drivers and system responses to build from the initial project vision to the implementation of on-ground works. A worked example on the Upper Hunter River in southeastern Australia shows how understanding catchment history can reveal disturbance and response mechanisms, thus facilitating process-based restoration.

Key words

catchment history; complex ecological systems; conceptual modeling; disturbance and response mechanisms; guiding image; Hunter River, Australia; interdisciplinary research; process-based restoration; river restoration
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Ecology and Society. ISSN: 1708-3087