Ecosystem responses to restored flow in a travertine river
Disruptions of natural flow impair rivers and streams worldwide. Those conducting restoration efforts have rarely explored how and when stream ecosystems can recover after reinstating natural flows. We quantified responses of ecosystem metabolism and N dynamics to the decommissioning and removal of a 100-y-old diversion dam in a desert stream, Fossil Creek, Arizona. Fossil Creek is a travertine river, meaning that CaCO3 concentrations in water in the springs that feed Fossil Creek are high enough to precipitate out of the water to form travertine terraces and deep pools. The majority of flow was diverted for power generation, so travertine deposition rates were significantly reduced and travertine terraces were smaller and less frequent compared to pre-dam historical records. Flow restoration enabled the recovery of the geochemical process of travertine deposition and increased gross primary production and N uptake to rates comparable to those measured in an upstream, reference reach. Reinstating a river’s natural flow regime can result in rapid and near-complete recovery of fundamental ecosystem processes that reshape the aquatic food web.