, Volume 11, Issue 5, pp 607-617

The reversible process concept applied to the environmental management of large river systems

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The wetland ecosystems occurring within alluvial floodplains change rapidly. Within the ecological successions, the life span of pioneer and transient stages may be measured in several years or decades depending on the respective influences of allogenic (water dynamics, erosion, and deposition) and autogenic developmental processes (population dynamics, eutrophication, and terrestrialization). This article emphasizes the mechanisms that are responsible for the ecosystem changes and their importance to environmental management. Two case studies exemplify reversible and irreversible successional processes in reference to different spatial and temporal scales. On the scale of the former channels, the standing-water ecosystems with low homeostasis may recover their previous status after human action on the allogenic processes. On the scale of a whole reach of the floodplain, erosion and deposition appear as reversible processes that regenerate the ecological successions. The concepts of stability and reversibility are discussed in relation to different spatiotemporal referential frameworks and different levels of integration. The reversible process concept is also considered with reference to the energy inputs into the involved subsystems. To estimate the probability of ecosystem regeneration or the cost of restoration, a concept of “degrees of reversibility” is proposed.