Skip to main content
Log in

Assessing restoration effects on hydromorphology in European mid-sized rivers by key hydromorphological parameters

  • Published:
Hydrobiologia Aims and scope Submit manuscript


The effects of river restoration on hydromorphological conditions and variability are often documented immediately following the restoration, but rarely properly monitored in the long term. This study assesses outcomes of 20 restoration projects undertaken across central and northern Europe for a comprehensive set of hydromorphological parameters, quantified at both larger and smaller spatial scales. For each project, we compared a restored river section to an upstream degraded section. Ten pairs of large projects were contrasted to ten similar but less extensive projects, to address the importance of restoration extent for the success of each project. Overall, river restoration increased habitat diversity through changes in channel morphology. Our results indicated that restoration particularly improved macro- and mesohabitat diversity, but had a limited effect on microhabitat conditions, including the diversity of substrates. We found no significant difference in effects between large and small restoration projects. Our results reveal the need to assess hydromorphological parameters which reflect processes occurring at different spatial scales, including indicators of larger-scale hydromorphological processes such as bank erosion, to monitor restoration effects effectively and accurately. Additionally, our results demonstrate the importance of developing terrestrial parameters, to assess the lateral dimension of river restoration.

This is a preview of subscription content, log in via an institution to check access.

Access this article

Price excludes VAT (USA)
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.

Instant access to the full article PDF.

Fig. 1
Fig. 2
Fig. 3
Fig. 4
Fig. 5
Fig. 6

Similar content being viewed by others


  • Beechie, T. J., D. A. Sear, J. D. Olden, G. R. Pess, J. M. Buffington, H. Moir, P. Roni & M. M. Pollock, 2010. Process-based principles for restoring river ecosystems. BioScience 60: 209–222.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Belletti, B., M. Rinaldi, A. D. Buijse, A. M. Gurnell & E. Messelman, 2014. A review of assessment methods for river hydromorphology. Environmental Earth Sciences. doi:10.1007/s12665-014-3558-1.

    Google Scholar 

  • Bernhardt, E. S. & M. A. Palmer, 2011. River restoration: the fuzzy logic of repairing reaches to reverse catchment scale degradation. Ecological Applications 21: 1923–1931.

    Google Scholar 

  • Brierley, G., H. Reid, K. Fryirs & N. Trahan, 2010. What are we monitoring and why? Using geomorphic principles to frame eco-hydrological assessments of river condition. Science of the Total Environment 408: 2025–2033.

    Article  CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • European Commitee for Standardization (CEN), 2002. A Guidance standard for assessing the hydromorphological features in rivers. CEN TC 230/WG2/TG5: N32, Water analysis. Brussels.

  • Fausch, F. D. & T. G. Northcote, 1992. Large woody debris and salmonid habitat in a small coastal British Columbia stream. Canadian Journal of Fisheries and Aquatic Science 49: 682–693.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Feld, C. K., F. de Bello & S. Dolédec, 2014. Biodiversity of traits and species both show weak responses to hydromorphological alteration in lowland river macroinvertebrates. Freshwater Biology 59: 233–248.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Fortin, M. J., S. Payette & K. Marineau, 1999. Spatial vegetation diversity index along a postfire successional gradient in the northern boreal forest. Ecoscience 6: 204–213.

    Google Scholar 

  • Freiland Umweltconsulting, unpublished. NÖMORPH. Strukturkartierung ausgewählter Fließgewässer in Niederösterreich. Endbericht - Teil I: Methodik.

  • Göthe, E., A. Timmermann, K. Januschke & A. Baattrup-Pedersen, 2015. Structural and functional responses of floodplain vegetation to stream ecosystem restoration. Hydrobiologia. doi:10.1007/s10750-015-2401-3.

    Google Scholar 

  • Gurnell, A., M. Bussettini, B. Camenen, M. Gonzalez Del Tanago, R. Grabowski, D. Hendriks, A. Henshaw, A. Latapie, M. Rinaldi & N. Surian, 2014. A hierarchical multi-scale framework and indicators of hydromorphological processes and forms. Report D2.1. Part 1 of the FP7 project REFORM.

  • Hering, D., A. Buffagni, O. Moog, L. Sandin, M. Sommerhäuser, I. Stubauer, C. Feld, R. K. Johnson, P. Pinto, N. Skoulikidis, P. F. M. Verdonschot & S. Zahradkova, 2003. The development of a system to assess the ecological quality of streams based on macroinvertebrates - design of the sampling programme within the AQEM Project. International Review of Hydrobiology 88: 345–361.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Hering, D., R. K. Johnson, S. Kramm, S. Schmutz, K. Szoszkiewicz & P. F. M. Verdonschot, 2006. Assessment of European streams with diatoms, macrophytes, macroinvertebrates and fish: a comparative metric-based analysis of organism response to stress. Freshwater Biology 51: 1757–1785.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Hering, D., J. Aroviita, A. Baattrup-Pedersen, K. Brabec, T. Buijse, F. Ecke, N. Friberg, M. Gielczewski, K. Januschke, J. Köhler, B. Kupilas, A. Lorenz, S. Muhar, A. Paillex, M. Poppe, T. Schmidt, S. Schmutz, P. J. Vermaat, P. F. M. Verdonschot & R. Verdonschot, 2015. Contrasting the roles of section length and instream habitat enhancement for river restoration success: a field study on 20 European restoration projects. Journal of Applied Ecology 50: 97–106.

    Google Scholar 

  • Ibisate, A., A. Ollero & E. Díaz, 2011. Influence of catchment processes on fluvial morphology and river habitats. Limnetica 30: 169–182.

    Google Scholar 

  • Jähnig, S. C., A. W. Lorenz & D. Hering, 2008. Hydromorphological parameters indicating differences between single- and multiple-channel mountain rivers in Germany, in relation to their modification and recovery. Aquatic conservation 18: 1200–1216.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Jähnig, S. C., S. Brunzel, S. Gacek, A. W. Lorenz & D. Hering, 2009. Effects of re-braiding measures on hydromorphology, floodplain vegetation, ground beetles and benthic invertebrates in mountain rivers. Journal of Applied Ecology 46: 406–416.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Januschke, K. & R. C. M. Verdonschot, 2015. Effects of river restoration on riparian ground beetles (Coleoptera: Carabidae) in Europe. Hydrobiologia. doi:10.1007/s10750-015-2532-6.

    Google Scholar 

  • Januschke, K., A. Sundermann, C. Antons, P. Haase, A. Lorenz, D. Hering & D. Aue, 2009. 3 Untersuchung und Auswertung von ausgewählten Renaturierungsbeispielen repräsentativer Fließgewässertypen der Flusseinzugsgebiete Deutschlands, In: Schriftenreihe des Deutschen Rates für Landespflege 82: Verbesserung der biologischen Vielfalt in Fließgewässern und ihren Auen, 23–39.

  • Jungwirth M., G. Haidvogl, O. Moog, S. Muhar & S. Schmutz, 2003. Angewandte Fischökologie an Fließgewässern, Facultas UTB Wien.

  • Kail, J., J. Arle & S. C. Jähnig, 2012. Limiting factors and thresholds for macroinvertebrate assemblages in European rivers: empirical evidence from three datasets on water quality, catchment urbanization, and river restoration. Ecological Indicators 18: 63–72.

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  • Kondolf, G. M., 1998. Lessons learned from river restoration projects in California. Aquatic Conservation 8: 39–52.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Kondolf, G. M., S. Anderson, R. Lave, L. Pagano, A. Merenlender & E. S. Bernhardt, 2007. Two decades of river restoration in California: what can we learn? Restoration Ecology 15: 516–523.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Kristensen, E. A., A. Baattrup-Pedersen & H. Thodsen, 2011. An evaluation of restoration practices in lowland streams: has the physical integrity been re-created? Ecological Engineering 37: 1654–1660.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • LänderarbeitsgemeinschaftWasser (LAWA), 2000. Gewässerstrukturgütebewertung in der Bundesrepublik Deutschland. Verfahren für kleine und mittelgroße Fließgewässer, Berlin.

    Google Scholar 

  • Lepori, F., D. Palm, E. Brannas & B. Malmqvist, 2005. Does restoration of structural heterogeneity in streams enhance fish and macroinvertebrate diversity? Ecological Applications 15: 2060–2071.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Lorenz, A. W., T. Korte, A. Sundermann, K. Januschke & P. Haase, 2012. Macrophytes respond to reach-scale river restorations. Journal of Applied Ecology 49: 202–2012.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Miller, S. W., P. Budy & J. C. Schmidt, 2010. Quantifying macroinvertebrate responses to in-stream habitat restoration: applications of meta-analysis to river restoration. Restoration Ecology 18: 8–19.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Mueller, M., J. Pander & J. Geist, 2014. The ecological value of stream restoration measures: an evaluation on ecosystem and target species scales. Ecological Engineering 62: 129–139.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Muhar, S., K. Januschke, J. Kail, M. Poppe, D. Hering & A. D. Buijse, this issue. Evaluating good-practice cases for river restoration across Europe: context, methodological framework, selected results and recommendations. Hydrobiologia.

  • Muhar, S., M. Schwarz, S. Schmutz & M. Jungwirth, 2000. Identification of rivers with high and good habitat integrity: methodological approach and applications in Austria. Hydrobiologia 422(423): 343–358.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Nilsson, C., L. E. Polvi, J. Gardeström, E. M. Hasselquist, L. Lind & J. M. Sarneel, 2014. Riparian and in-stream restoration of boreal streams and rivers: success or failure? Ecohydrology. doi:10.1002/eco.1480.

    Google Scholar 

  • Osenberg, C. W., O. Sarnelle & S. D. Cooper, 1997. Effect size in ecological experiments: the application of biological models in meta-analysis. The American Naturalist 150: 798–812.

    Article  CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Palmer, M. A., E. S. Bernhardt, J. D. Allan, P. S. Lake, G. Alexander, S. Brooks, J. Carr, S. Clayton, C. N. Dahm, J. Follstad Shah, D. L. Galat, S. G. Loss, P. Goodwin, D. D. Hart, B. Hassett, R. Jenkinson, G. M. Kondolf, R. Lave, J. L. Meyer, T. K. O’Donnell, L. Pagano & E. Sudduth, 2005. Standards for ecologically successful river restoration. Journal of Applied Ecology 42: 208–217.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Palmer, M. A., H. L. Menninger & E. Bernhardt, 2010. River restoration, habitat heterogeneity and biodiversity: a failure of theory or practice? Freshwater Biology 55: 205–222.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Pander, J. & J. Geist, 2013. Ecological indicators for stream restoration success. Ecological Indicators 30: 106–118.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Poppe, M., M. Stelzhammer, M. Seebacher, S. Muhar, K. Januschke, A. Lorenz, B. Kupilas, & D. Hering, 2012. Field protocols and associated database. Report D4.1. of the FP7 project REFORM.

  • RESTORE, 2011. B3: Review of EU Policy Drivers for River Restoration. Report for EU LIFE project LIFE 09 INF/UK/000032. Accessed 09 Sept 2014.

  • Raven, P. J., P. Fox, M. Everard, N. T. H. Holmes & F. H. Dawson, 1997. River Habitat Survey: a new system for classifying rivers according to their habitat quality. In Boon, P. J. & D. L. Howell (eds), Freshwater quality: defining the indefinable?. The Stationary Office, Edinburgh: 215–234.

    Google Scholar 

  • Richards, K., J. Brasington & F. Hughes, 2002. Geomorphic dynamics of floodplains: ecological implications and a potential modelling strategy. Freshwater Biology 47: 559–579.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Rinaldi, M., N. Surian, F. Comiti & M. Bussettini, 2013a. A method for the assessment and analysis of the hydromorphological condition of Italian streams: the morphological quality index (MQI). Geomorphology 180–181: 96–108.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Rinaldi, M., B. Belletti, W. Ban de Bund, W. Bertoldi, A. Gurnell, T. Buijse & E. Mosselman, 2013b. Review on eco-hydromorpholoigcal methods. Report D1.1. of the FP7 project REFORM, 202p.

  • Roni, P., K. Hanson & T. Beechie, 2008. Global review of the physical and biological effectiveness of stream habitat rehabilitation techniques. North American Journal of Fisheries Management 28: 856–890.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Shannon, C. E. & W. Weaver, 1949. The Mathematical Theory of Communication. The University of Illinois Press, Urbana.

    Google Scholar 

  • Schinegger, R., C. Trautwein & S. Schmutz, 2013. Pressure-specific and multiple pressure response of fish assemblages in European running waters. Limnologica 43: 348–361.

    Article  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  • Schmutz, S., H. Kremser, A. Melcher, M. Jungwirth, S. Muhar, H. Waidbacher & G. Zauner, 2013. Ecological effects of rehabilitation measures at the Austrian Danube: a meta-analysis of fish assemblages. Hydrobiologia 729: 49–60.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Smith, B., N. J. Clifford & J. Mant, 2013. Analysis of UK river restoration using broad-scale data sets. Water and Environment Journal 28: 490–501.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Sundermann, A., C. Antons, N. Cron, A. W. Lorenz, D. Hering & P. Haase, 2011. Hydromorphological restoration of running waters: effects on benthic invertebrate assemblages. Freshwater Biology 56: 1689–1702.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Trautwein, C., R. Schinegger & S. Schmutz, 2013. Divergent reaction of fish parameters to human pressures in fish assemblage types in Europe. Hydrobiologia 718: 207–220.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Verdonschot, R., J. Kail, B. G. McKie & P. F. M. Verdonschot, 2015. The role of benthic microhabitats in determining the effects of hydromorphological river restoration on macroinvertebrates. Hydrobiologia. doi:10.1007/s10750-015-2561-1.

  • Verdonschot, P. F. M., B. M. Spears, C. K. Feld, S. Brucet, H. Keizer-Vlek, A. Borja, M. Elliott, M. Kernan & R. K. Johnson, 2013. A comparative review of recovery processes in rivers, lakes, estuarine and coastal waters. Hydrobiologia 704: 453–474.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Water Framework Directive (WFD), 2000. Directive 2000/60/EC of the European Parliament and the Council of 23 October 2000 establishing a framework for community action in the field of water policy. Official Journal of the European Communities (22.12.2000) L327,1.

Download references


Funding for this study was provided by the EU-project REFORM (REstoring rivers FOR effective catchment Management), contract no. 282656 under the 7th Framework Programme. We are grateful to all field work teams at the 20 REFORM WP4 case study sites for generating the hydromorphological data of this study. We would particularly like to thank Michael Stachowitsch for English proofreading and Renate Polt for technical assistance. We appreciated the comments of guest editor Brendan McKie and two anonymous reviewers, who greatly contributed to improving the manuscript.

Author information

Authors and Affiliations


Corresponding author

Correspondence to Michaela Poppe.

Additional information

Guest editors: Jochem Kail, Brendan G. McKie, Piet F. M. Verdonschot & Daniel Hering / Effects of hydromorphological river restoration

Electronic supplementary material

Below is the link to the electronic supplementary material.

Annex 1

Descriptive attributes and evaluation parameters for the hydromorphological survey parameters. Supplementary material 1 (DOCX 33 kb)

Annex 2

Channel features (modified after Jähnig et al., 2008 and Januschke et al., 2009). Supplementary material 2 (DOCX 31 kb)

Annex 3

Substrates for instream microhabitat mapping according to the multi-habitat sampling protocol (Hering et al., 2003). Supplementary material 3 (DOCX 17 kb)

Annex 4

Flow velocity classes. Supplementary material 4 (DOCX 16 kb)

Annex 5

Habitat characteristics of the restored (R1, R2) and their corresponding degraded (D1, D2) sections. Parameters are listed and described in Table 2. Supplementary material 5 (DOCX 40 kb)

Annex 6

Spearman`s correlation coefficient ρ of the effect sizes (response ratio) of all 14 hydromorphological survey parameters as well as from PCA generated Component 1 (PCA extracted “Aquatic habitat parameter”) and Component 2 (PCA extracted “Terrestrial habitat parameter”) with ** p<0.01 and * p<0.05. Supplementary material 6 (DOCX 35 kb)

Rights and permissions

Reprints and permissions

About this article

Check for updates. Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Poppe, M., Kail, J., Aroviita, J. et al. Assessing restoration effects on hydromorphology in European mid-sized rivers by key hydromorphological parameters. Hydrobiologia 769, 21–40 (2016).

Download citation

  • Received:

  • Revised:

  • Accepted:

  • Published:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI: