1.1. What Is the Biological Condition of All USA Streams and Rivers?
1.2. What Is the Major Anthropogenic Pressure on Streams?
1.3. What Happens When Forests Are Converted to Agriculture?
2. Case Studies
2.1. Cropland Case Studies: Research and Management Implications
- Both catchment and riparian treatments can affect site MMI scores , with the degree of those effects being a function of the relative degrees of disturbance at those two spatial extents. Where catchment conditions are intensively and extensively altered, site-specific BMPs have limited effectiveness. Where this is not the case, site-specific BMPs can produce significant improvements . In other words, riparian BMPs can improve site habitat conditions, but fish assemblages cannot be recovered if there is insufficient catchment BMP implementation [31,49]. Thus, study extents matter.
- Biotic relationships with agricultural land use are very complex. Clear increases in MMI scores were apparent only after agricultural land use was less than 50%. However, even with 80% agricultural land use, some sites with relatively high gradients and rocky substrate that had not been channelized had high MMI scores .
- Together with historical land and water uses, unanticipated land disturbances and BMPs occurred during studies, thereby confounding the results of both BACI and disturbance gradient studies .
- Contrasting results, even from studies in the same river basin, occur because of the differing spatial extents of their study designs, together with the strengths of the relationships between stream biotic conditions and the differing effectiveness of the catchment and riparian BMP treatments expected to affect those conditions .
- In the Midwest, both grass and wood riparian buffers improved macroinvertebrate and fish indicator scores . Therefore, it is important to consider the potential natural vegetation of riparian buffer zones rather than always planting trees (especially non-native species).
- Total abundance often indicates nutrient enrichment of streams .
2.2. Livestock Exclosure Case Studies: Research and Management Implications
- Proximate paired sites on the same streams typically are not independent; rather they tend to be pseudoreplicates , meaning that upstream conditions may have important biological effects on downstream conditions in an exclosure, and vice versa. Both conditions confound biological responses to exclosures .
- Small natural differences in channel slope, morphology and substrate may confound comparisons between the instream biological effects of exclosures versus grazed riparian zones .
- Even more so than agricultural BMPs, exclosure projects have been ad hoc, not selected as part of long-term survey designs and lacking controls that could be tested efficiently .
- Total abundance of riparian birds frequently indicates catchment disturbance that increases abundances of wide-ranging generalist taxa .
- Although both macroinvertebrate and fish indicators usually had improved scores inside livestock exclosures, those responses for riparian birds tended to be stronger and more consistent (Table 2). Presumably, this occurred because of the stronger relationship between riparian vegetation and bird assemblages, and the longer durations of riparian recoveries in the avian studies.
3.1. Major BMP Research and Management Challenges
- Holistic, basin-extent plans for implementing and monitoring rehabilitation projects are lacking .
- Targeted approaches addressing entire stream lengths and their associated catchments are required to restore aquatic ecosystem integrity given the pervasive effects of croplands and overgrazing on riverscapes. Overgrazing and farming limit the degree to which significant proportions of stream networks can be rehabilitated [58,60,67]. Therefore, BMPs of multiple types should be aggregated in catchments and in proximity to streams and their floodplains to maximize effectiveness, and those BMPs must be maintained .
- The survey designs, monitoring protocols, indicators and funding must be commensurate with the extent of the problem .
- The planning, rehabilitation and monitoring must be collaborative—not limited and parochial .
- Historical land uses and time lags following project implementation must be incorporated into project planning and monitoring [43,77,82]. For example, time lags following historical or current land-use changes, particularly their effects on nutrient residence times in groundwater, mean that decades are required to remove them from agricultural groundwaters feeding streams. Similarly, fine sediments and phosphorus move slowly through river networks because of storage and remobilization processes, especially in low-slope agricultural streams, where their removal may require decades to centuries .
- Planning for the thermal and hydrological impacts of current and future climate change is essential , particularly the increasing likelihood of extreme weather events, such as floods, droughts, fire and high winds.
- Livestock exclosure and stream-rehabilitation research has produced considerable scientific uncertainty because of relatively few studies, weak study designs and indicators, and insufficient consideration of the spatial extents and mechanisms of ecosystem recovery . Exclosure and rehabilitation projects are generally too small and poorly located to measure aquatic indicator responses to livestock removal or BMPs accurately and precisely. Project response timing and dynamics may vary considerably with location and treatment. Sites can recover relatively quickly and predictably, recover slowly and remain more sensitive to impacts than they were before project initiation, or fail to recover at all.
- By altering stream catchments, humans degrade stream/riparian ecosystems in multiple ways . However, fully understanding the relationships between land/stream uses and stream ecological condition is complicated by the covariation of anthropogenic and natural gradients, the differing effects of different spatial extents, and uncertainties surrounding the importance of land use legacies, physicochemical and biotic indicator sensitivities, and those indicator response thresholds [22,85,86,87,88].
- The most critical step in stream rehabilitation is cessation of the anthropogenic activities that cause degradation and hinder recovery . Before implementing active rehabilitation projects, allowing sufficient time for natural recovery is recommended. Not doing so can actually exacerbate the degree of degradation and further hinder rehabilitation. Rehabilitation should be focused initially on catchments rather than riparian/stream ecosystems, assuming the catchments and their floodplains are driving degraded stream conditions [85,90].
- For projects focused on riparian zones, establish them as separate management units with different management objectives than their catchments. Limit livestock by herding, controlling the timing, intensity and duration of grazing, or permanently fencing them off from grazing. Limit agriculture to allow the potential natural riparian and floodplain vegetation to recover and monitor land use for compliance. At least on public lands, establish grazing and cropland fees commensurate with the costs of management and monitoring .
- Stream riparian buffer management offers largely extent-independent effects (shading, thermal controls, and organic matter and large wood additions) . However, catchment management offers extent-dependent effects (nutrients and fine sediment retention, as well as flow regime) . Extent-dependent effects and variations in riparian management often limit the biological responses of local riparian management. Concerted management across both spatial extents is required for full biological recovery of damaged streams. Nonetheless, the ecological benefits of wide riparian buffers along entire channel networks outweigh any potential adverse ecological effects, particularly for small streams [77,92].
3.2. What Can Be Done to Reduce Agricultural Impacts on Streams?
3.3. What USA Policies Might Be Implemented to Reduce Agricultural Impacts on Streams?
Conflicts of Interest
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|State or Region||Study Design||Sites||Mgmt. Practice||Indicators||Results||Source|
|Wisconsin||disturbance gradient||25||conversion of farmland to forest||fish, diatom and macroinvertebrate MMIs||increased MMI scores|||
|North Carolina||disturbance gradient||3||conversion of farmland to forest||fish and macroinvertebrate MMIs||increased MMI scores|||
|Michigan||disturbance gradient||23||conversion of farmland to forest||fish MMI||increased MMI scores|||
|Wisconsin||disturbance gradient||134||conversion of unwooded to wooded riparian zones and catchments||Fish MMI||Increased scores|||
|Minnesota||disturbance gradient||20||conversion of unwooded to wooded riparian zones||fish MMI||increased MMI scores|||
|Michigan||disturbance gradient||23||conversion of unwooded to wooded riparian zones and catchments||fish MMI||increased MMI scores, especially for catchments|||
|Wisconsin||disturbance gradient||38||conversion of unwooded to wooded riparian zones and catchments||fish and macroinvertebrate MMIs||increased MMI scores|||
|Illinois||disturbance gradient||84||remove agricultural land from production||EPT taxa richness||no effect|||
|Minnesota||disturbance gradient||3||agricultural land retirement||fish MMI||improved with riparian agricultural retirement|||
|Missouri basin||disturbance gradient||526||conservation practices||lithophilic fish||>50% land treatment to have significant effect|||
|North Carolina||disturbance gradient||3||erosion control||Ephemeroptera|
|increased taxa and EPT richness|||
|Missouri and Arkansas||disturbance gradient||30||reduced livestock production||fish, diatom and macroinvertebrate MMIs||increased MMI scores|||
|USA||disturbance gradient||172||conversion of unwooded to wooded riparian zones||fish MMI||increased MMI scores|||
|Minnesota||disturbance gradient||20||conversion of unwooded to wooded riparian zones||fish MMI||Increased MMI scores|||
|Indiana||before-after||2||re-meandering||fish||minimal and negative effects|||
|North Carolina and Virginia||disturbance gradient||3||livestock exclusion; channel rehabilitation; agriculture BMPs||macroinvertebrates||conditions declined in 2 sites and improved in the BMP site|||
|Wisconsin||BACI||4||agriculture BMPs||fish assemblage||improved in 1 BMP site|||
|Ohio||BACI||16||no-till and low-till agriculture||fish MMI||significantly improved MMI scores|||
|Illinois||disturbance gradient||9||wooded riparian buffers||fish and macroinvertebrates||abundances decreased and fish MMI scores increased|||
|Virginia||paired||48||riparian buffers||fish MMI||scores increased|||
|Georgia||paired||5||riparian buffers||macroinvertebrates and amphibians||scores increased|||
|State or Region||Study Design||Sites||Indicators||Results||Source|
|Minnesota||disturbance gradient||17||fish and macroinvertebrates||varied more by buffer type than grazing intensity|||
|Nebraska||disturbance gradient||6||macroinvertebrate MMI||improved scores|||
|New Mexico||paired||4||tolerant macroinvertebrates||decreased densities and biomasses|||
|Virginia||paired||10||macroinvertebrates||no significant difference|||
|Minnesota||paired||26||macroinvertebrate MMI||improved scores|||
|Oregon||paired||16||fish||increased age-0 Redband Trout densities|||
|California||paired||7||Golden Trout||increased density and biomass|||
|Oregon, Utah, Montana||paired||10||trout biomass||increased 184%|||
|Idaho||paired||6||trout||abundance and size increased|||
|Arizona||paired||6||riparian birds||increased density and species richness|||
|Idaho||BACI||14||fish and macroinvertebrates||increased age-0 salmonid densities|||
|Oregon||BACI||69||riparian birds||increased abundance and richness of species of concern|||
|Oregon||BACI||106||riparian birda||increased abundance and richness|||
|California, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Oregon||BACI||437||riparian birds||increased abundance and richness|||
|Oregon||BACI||9||riparian birds||increased abundance and richness|||
|Oregon||BACI||6||riparian birds||increased abundance and richness|||
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