Projects to assess environmental impact or restoration success in rivers focus on project-specific questions but can also provide valuable insights for future projects. Both restoration actions and impact assessments can become “adaptive” by using the knowledge gained from long-term monitoring and analysis to revise the actions, monitoring, conceptual model, or interpretation of findings so that subsequent actions or assessments are better informed. Assessments of impact or restoration success are especially challenging when the indicators of interest are imperiled species and/or the impacts being addressed are complex. From 1997 to 2015, we worked closely with two federal agencies to monitor habitat availability for and population density of Roanoke logperch (Percina rex
), an endangered fish, in a 24-km-long segment of the upper Roanoke River, VA. We primarily used a Before-After-Control-Impact analytical framework to assess potential impacts of a river channelization project on the P. rex
population. In this paper, we summarize how our extensive monitoring facilitated the evolution of our (a) conceptual understanding of the ecosystem and fish population dynamics; (b) choices of ecological indicators and analytical tools; and (c) conclusions regarding the magnitude, mechanisms, and significance of observed impacts. Our experience with this case study taught us important lessons about how to adaptively develop and conduct a monitoring program, which we believe are broadly applicable to assessments of environmental impact and restoration success in other rivers. In particular, we learned that (a) pre-treatment planning can enhance monitoring effectiveness, help avoid unforeseen pitfalls, and lead to more robust conclusions; (b) developing adaptable conceptual and analytical models early was crucial to organizing our knowledge, guiding our study design, and analyzing our data; (c) catchment-wide processes that we did not monitor, or initially consider, had profound implications for interpreting our findings; and (d) using multiple analytical frameworks, with varying assumptions, led to clearer interpretation of findings than the use of a single framework alone. Broader integration of these guiding principles into monitoring studies, though potentially challenging, could lead to more scientifically defensible assessments of project effects.
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