The impact of hydromorphological restoration on river ecological status: a comparison of fish, benthic invertebrates, and macrophytes
The European Water Framework Directive (WFD) has led to an increase in hydromorphological restoration attempts in European rivers, but data on the ecological responses of rivers to these restoration attempts are scarce. We investigated the effects of 24 hydromorphological river restoration projects in Germany. We compared hydromorphological parameters and biological diversity of macroinvertebrates, fish, and macrophytes in restored reaches to nearby unrestored sections. We applied, for the first time, the WFD to assess the results of these restoration projects. While hydromorphology changed significantly in the restored sections, differences between restored and unrestored sections in terms of biological parameters were lower. Positive restoration effects were observed for fish (11 of 24 cases) only. Based on the synthesis of results from the different organism groups, only one of the 24 restored sections reached a “good” Ecological Quality Class as demanded by the WFD. Our results indicate that stressors other than hydromorphological degradation still affect the biota in restored sections. We emphasize the need for advanced restoration strategies based on catchment analyses considering water pollution, source populations, and dispersal capacities of sensitive species, and recommend the inclusion of additional parameters, including societal and stakeholder perspectives, in assessing the initial success of restoration projects.