Environmental Management

, Volume 49, Issue 1, pp 130–141 | Cite as

Effects of River Restoration on Riparian Biodiversity in Secondary Channels of the Pite River, Sweden

  • James M. HelfieldEmail author
  • Johanna Engström
  • James T. Michel
  • Christer Nilsson
  • Roland Jansson


Between 1850 and 1970, rivers throughout Sweden were channelized to facilitate timber floating. Floatway structures were installed to streamline banks and disconnect flow to secondary channels, resulting in simplified channel morphologies and more homogenous flow regimes. In recent years, local authorities have begun to restore channelized rivers. In this study, we examined the effects of restoration on riparian plant communities at previously disconnected secondary channels of the Pite River. We detected no increase in riparian diversity at restored sites relative to unrestored (i.e., disconnected) sites, but we did observe significant differences in species composition of both vascular plant and bryophyte communities. Disconnected sites featured greater zonation, with mesic-hydric floodplain species represented in plots closest to the stream and mesic-xeric upland species represented in plots farthest from the stream. In contrast, restored sites were most strongly represented by upland species at all distances relative to the stream. These patterns likely result from the increased water levels in reconnected channels where, prior to restoration, upland plants had expanded toward the stream. Nonetheless, the restored fluvial regime has not brought about the development of characteristic flood-adapted plant communities, probably due to the short time interval (ca. 5 years) since restoration. Previous studies have demonstrated relatively quick responses to similar restoration in single-channel tributaries, but secondary channels may respond differently due to the more buffered hydrologic regimes typically seen in anabranching systems. These findings illustrate how restoration outcomes can vary according to hydrologic, climatic and ecological factors, reinforcing the need for site-specific restoration strategies.


Biodiversity Boreal Bryophyte Off-channel habitat Restoration Riparian River Secondary channel Vegetation 



We thank Nils “Nisse” Ericsson and Stefan Ericsson for help with plant species identification, and Brian Bingham for help with statistical analyses. We also thank Tommy Stenlund for help with selection of study sites. This study was funded by grants from the Kempe Foundation (to C Nilsson), the Swedish Environmental Protection Agency (Naturvårdsverket), through Älvsbyn’s municipality (to C Nilsson), and Western Washington University (to JM Helfield).


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  • James M. Helfield
    • 1
    Email author
  • Johanna Engström
    • 2
  • James T. Michel
    • 1
  • Christer Nilsson
    • 2
  • Roland Jansson
    • 2
  1. 1.Department of Environmental Sciences, Huxley College of the EnvironmentWestern Washington UniversityBellinghamUSA
  2. 2.Landscape Ecology Group, Department of Ecology and Environmental ScienceUmeå UniversityUmeåSweden

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