Environmental Management

, Volume 14, Issue 5, pp 547–569

Recovery of lotic communities and ecosystems from disturbance—A narrative review of case studies

  • J. David Yount
  • Gerald J. Niemi
Section I: Introduction


We present a narrative account of case studies of the recovery of flowing water systems from disturbance, focusing on the investigators' conclusions about recovery time and the factors contributing to recovery. We restrict our attention to case studies in which the recovery of some biological property of the system has been examined, excluding those that deal only with physical or chemical properties. Although natural processes and rates of recovery are emphasized, studies of reclamation or restoration of damaged ecosystems are included where they contribute to an understanding of recovery processes.

For the majority of studies examined, the systems recovered quite rapidly. The most commonly cited reasons for short recovery times were: (1) life history characteristics that allowed rapid recolonization and repopulation of the affected areas, (2) the availability and accessibility of unaffected up-stream and downstream areas and internal refugia to serve as sources of organisms for repopulation, (3) the high flushing rates of lotic systems that allowed them to quickly dilute or replace polluted waters, and (4) the fact that lotic systems are naturally subjected to a variety of disturbances and the biota have evolved life history characteristics that favor flexibility or adaptability. In general, longer recovery times were observed in disturbances, such as channelization, that resulted in alterations to physical conditions.

This review also indicates that much of our knowledge of recovery in lotic ecosystems is fragmented and uncoordinated. In addition to establishing the bounds of recovery time, our review identifies some research gaps that need to be filled.

Key words

Lotic ecosystems Streams Rivers Disturbance Recovery Case studies Review 


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag New York Inc. 1990

Authors and Affiliations

  • J. David Yount
    • 1
  • Gerald J. Niemi
    • 2
  1. 1.US Environmental Protection Agency Environmental Research LaboratoryDuluthUSA
  2. 2.Natural Resources Research Institute Center for Water and the EnvironmentDuluthUSA

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