Nearshore subtidal community response during and after sediment disturbance associated with dam removal

Frontiers in Ecology and Evolution
By: , and 



Dam removal is used increasingly to restore aquatic ecosystems and remove unnecessary or high-risk infrastructure. As the number of removals increases, there is a growing understanding about the hydrologic, geomorphic, and ecological responses to these removals. Most dam removal studies, however, focus on river and watershed responses to dam removal. The removal of two dams on the Elwha River provided a unique opportunity to characterize the response of nearshore (coastal) ecosystems. We conducted SCUBA surveys between 2011 and 2022 to quantify trajectories of change in a nearshore ecosystem during and after dam removal. We focused on the degree to which the abundances of kelp, benthic invertebrates, and fish changed in response to patterns of sediment fluxes during and after dam removal. Our findings point to two pathways of response depending on the disturbance mechanism and species type. Sites with persistent sediment deposition were characterized by wholesale community changes that did not recover to a before dam removal condition. Instead, the sites were colonized by new species that were largely absent prior to dam removal. Sites that experienced high turbidity but lacked persistent seafloor deposition were primarily characterized by a reduction in the abundance of kelp and other algae during dam removal and a rapid recovery after sediment flux to the nearshore declined. Dam removal influences on invertebrates and fish at these sites were more variable, benefiting some species and disadvantaging others. In addition to dam removal, sea star wasting syndrome and a marine heatwave exerted distinct controls on subtidal communities during the same period. The loss of the predatory sea star Pycnopodia helianthoides was associated with gains in some of its prey species, and kelp community changes reflected regional trends in ocean temperature and kelp abundance. The results presented here have important implications for understanding the response of marine ecosystems to future dam removals and similar sediment perturbation events.

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Publication type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Title Nearshore subtidal community response during and after sediment disturbance associated with dam removal
Series title Frontiers in Ecology and Evolution
DOI 10.3389/fevo.2023.1233895
Volume 11
Year Published 2023
Language English
Publisher Frontiers Media
Contributing office(s) Pacific Coastal and Marine Science Center, Western Fisheries Research Center
Description 1233895, 21 p.
Country United States
State Washington
Other Geospatial Elwha River
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