, Volume 685, Issue 1, pp 69–95 | Cite as

Simple measures of channel habitat complexity predict transient hydraulic storage in streams

  • Philip R. KaufmannEmail author
  • John M. Faustini


Stream thalweg depth profiles (along path of greatest channel depth) and woody debris tallies have recently become components of routine field procedures for quantifying physical habitat in national stream monitoring efforts. Mean residual depth, standard deviation of thalweg depth, and large woody debris (LWD) volumes are potential metrics of habitat complexity calculated from these survey data. We used 42 intensive dye-transit studies to demonstrate the relevance of these easily measured channel habitat complexity metrics to transient hydraulic (“dead zone”) storage, a channel process important for biotic habitat as well as retention and “spiraling” of dissolved and particulate nutrients. We examined transient storage and channel morphology in small gravel and cobble-bedded upland streams (wetted width 2–5 m; slopes 2.6–8.3%) representing a wide range of flow stages, LWD loading, and channel complexity, including measurements before and after LWD was added to enhance fish habitat. While transient storage volume fraction decreased as flow stage increased in simple channels, those with complex morphology and well-developed riparian vegetation maintained high transient storage fractions even during storm flows. LWD additions increased transient storage and channel complexity over the 2 years of post-treatment measurements. We predict with considerable precision two different formulations of transient hydraulic storage fraction using single-variable linear regressions on residual depth (R 2 = 0.61–0.89), thalweg depth variance (R 2 = 0.64–0.91), or large woody debris volume (R 2 = 0.48–0.74). Demonstration of these likely causal associations contributes to understanding the process of transient storage and redefines the use of thalweg profile metrics as a new approach to quantifying morphologic and hydraulic complexity in streams.


Habitat complexity Streams Transient storage Hydraulic retention Channel morphology Physical habitat LWD Woody debris Thalweg profiles 



The research presented in this manuscript was undertaken at the U.S. EPA’s Western Ecology Division of the National Health and Environmental Effects Laboratory in Corvallis, OR, funded by the USEPA in support of developing indicators for monitoring the condition of aquatic resources through the National Aquatic Resource Surveys (NARS). Hydraulic dye transport data were collected and analyzed by the lead author in 1983–1986, with Ph.D research support from the Oregon State University Department of Forest Engineering (advisor: Bob Beschta) and a fellowship from the Weyerhauser Corporation. We are grateful to Tony Olsen, Steve Paulsen, Sarah Lehman, and Susan Holdsworth for funding and program support. We thank Chris Jordan, Bob Ozretich, John VanSickle, Steve Wondzell, Jordan Rosenfeld, and an additional anonymous reviewer for comments on earlier drafts. This manuscript has been subjected to review by the National Health and Environmental Effects Research Laboratory’s Western Ecology Division and approved for publication. Approval does not signify that the contents reflect the views of the Agency, nor does mention of trade names or commercial products constitute endorsement or recommendation for use.


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© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. (outside the USA) 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Western Ecology Division, National Health and Environmental Effects Laboratory, Office of Research and DevelopmentU.S. Environmental Protection AgencyCorvallisUSA
  2. 2.U.S. Fish & Wildlife ServiceAtlantaUSA

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