River Flow and Ecological Function

Investigating how changes in river flow impact important ecological functions.

In order to appropriately manage rivers and predict the consequences of extreme events, such as droughts or floods, we need to understand how ecological processes change in response to river flow (frequency, duration, etc.). While we have a good understanding of how river flow impacts habitat, we don’t yet fully understand how these changes impact key ecological functions, such as primary productivity and nutrient uptake. These functions are key to maintaining the quality of our rivers for humans and wildlife.

Ecological functions should be considered when making management decisions because they play an important role in maintaining ecosystem services. Human actions (such as land use, damming, and water withdrawals) interact with extreme weather events and can significantly impact river flow. By understanding how changes in flow impact the ecology of a river system, we can better predict the consequences of our management strategies and make decisions that optimize the health of our rivers.

Researchers at the River Basin Center are working with the US Army Corps of Engineers, the USGS, and collaborating UGA departments to conduct research on these topics in the Middle Oconee River in Athens, Georgia. Currently, researchers are regularly measuring the biomass of primary producers in the river and using chamber studies to measure productivity and nutrient uptake. By examining the relationship between flow and ecological function, this research helps to quantify the consequences of different river management and climate scenarios.

Funding: USACE, approximately $120,000
RBC Personnel: Caitlin Conn, Phillip Bumpers, Seth Wenger, Amy Rosemond, Mary Freeman, John Schramski, Todd Rasmussen
Partners: US Army Corps of Engineers, USGS, UGA Odum School of Ecology, UGA College of Engineering, UGA Warnell School of Forestry and Natural Resources

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