Many studies have found that damming a river can change downstream hydrology, sediment transport, channel morphology, and fish habitat. However, little is known about river dam effects on downstream riparian wetland dynamics and their quantitative relationship with hydrological alterations. In this study, hydrological time series and wetland distribution data spanning nearly 40 years (1978–2016) before and after the construction of a large dam in 2005 across the Nenjiang River in Northeast China were used to reveal the impact of dam on the downstream discharge regime and wetland degradation. Hydro-statistical and stepwise multiple regression analyses were performed to quantify the relationship of riparian wetland area with a metrics of 33 hydrological indicators. Dam construction caused decline in peak discharge, flood frequency, and magnitude. Moreover, 150 km riparian wetlands along the downstream of the dam was largely reduced. The count and duration of high flow pulses, 1-day maximum, and date of maximum discharge changed significantly after the dam construction. The hydrological changes have made a significant contribution to the 44% reduction in riparian wetlands following the dam construction. Our results indicated that hydrological alterations caused by dam regulation led to the area reduction of downstream riparian wetlands. The findings provide relevant information for developing best dam operation practices to protect and restore downstream wetland ecosystems.
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