New Measures of Aquatic Habitat for Assessing Restoration Resilience

Principal Investigator:

Matthew Baker

Start/End Year:

2017 - 2019


University of Maryland, Baltimore County

Co-Principal Investigator:

Fellow: Hayley Oakland

Strategic focus area:

Resilient ecosystem processes and responses


Most stream restoration is predicated on the assumption that modifications to local physical habitat can positively influence stream biota and ecosystem integrity. However, conventional field surveys rely on coarse scale summary of aquatic habitat as well as fine scale measures of channel hydraulics at intermittent locations within a sampling reach. Thus, contributions of habitat modification in the restoration process remain poorly understood. Recent advances in the use of small drones have potential to dramatically improve measures of stream habitat while lowering costs and time in the field. This research will compare field and aerial surveys of aquatic habitat and test for effects of habitat alteration on biotic responses following 5 stream restorations in Maryland and 5 in southeastern Pennsylvania. By evaluating aquatic habitat and stream biota both upstream and within restored reaches, we will control for effects of discharge and water quality while isolating the impacts of restoration in different systems. Aerial orthoimagery will be collected by a small remote-controlled quadcopter, then processed to extract channel dimensions, flow velocity, and bed particle sizes. Field and aerial surveys of stream habitat will allow for comparison of the relative quality of both measures and assessment relative to biotic response. Stream biota will be sampled according to existing protocols, processed to generic levels when possible, and assessed via both taxonomic and functional diversity. Evaluation of functional traits in particular will allow examination of if and how restoration has altered the capacity of stream assemblages to remain resilient in the face of ongoing perturbation.Our research will be among the first to test novel technologies for understanding fluvial landscapes and bring new perspectives to the role of physical habitat in contributing to the restoration of stream ecosystems. Such technologies are already transforming the way that scientists and mangers measure and monitor channel properties, thus in collaboration with our partners at the MBSS and PA DEP, our proposal rests on the cutting edge of stream restoration research.

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