, Volume 141, Issue 3, pp 365–383 | Cite as

River beads as a conceptual framework for building carbon storage and resilience to extreme climate events into river management

  • Ellen WohlEmail author
  • Katherine B. Lininger
  • Daniel N. Scott


River beads refer to retention zones within a river network that typically occur within wider, lower gradient segments of the river valley. In lowland, floodplain rivers that have been channelized and leveed, beads can also be segments of the river in which engineering has not reduced lateral channel mobility and channel-floodplain connectivity. Decades of channel engineering and flow regulation have reduced the spatial heterogeneity and associated ecosystem functions of beads occurring throughout river networks from headwaters to large, lowland rivers. We discuss the processes that create and maintain spatial heterogeneity within river beads, including examples of beads along mountain streams of the Southern Rockies in which large wood and beaver dams are primary drivers of heterogeneity. We illustrate how spatial heterogeneity of channels and floodplains within beads facilitates storage of organic carbon; retention of water, solutes, sediment, and particulate organic matter; nutrient uptake; biomass and biodiversity; and resilience to disturbance. We conclude by discussing the implications of river beads for understanding solute and particulate organic matter dynamics within river networks and the implications for river management. We also highlight gaps in current understanding of river form and function related to river beads. River beads provide an example of how geomorphic understanding of river corridor form and process can be used to restore retention and resilience within human-altered river networks.


River restoration Organic carbon Resilience Extreme climate events Spatial heterogeneity 



We thank Shreeram Inamdar and Margaret Palmer for the invitation to participate in the AGU Chapman Conference on Extreme Climate Event Impacts on Aquatic Biogeochemical Cycles and Fluxes, which inspired this paper. The original research on river beads in the Southern Rockies was supported by NSF grants DEB 1145616 and BCS 1536186. KBL’s work was partially supported by the NSF Graduate Research Fellowship Program under Grant No. DGE-1321845. The manuscript was improved by comments from three anonymous reviewers and editor Sujay Kaushal.


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© Springer International Publishing AG, part of Springer Nature 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  • Ellen Wohl
    • 1
    Email author
  • Katherine B. Lininger
    • 1
  • Daniel N. Scott
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of GeosciencesColorado State UniversityFort CollinsUSA

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