Marine and Freshwater Research Marine and Freshwater Research Society
Advances in the aquatic sciences
RESEARCH ARTICLE

Metastability in a river subject to multiple disturbances may constrain restoration options

B. J. Robson A B and B. D. Mitchell A
+ Author Affiliations
- Author Affiliations

A School of Life and Environmental Sciences, Deakin University, PO Box 423, Warrnambool, Vic. 3280, Australia.

B Corresponding author. Email: belinda.robson@deakin.edu.au

Marine and Freshwater Research 61(7) 778-785 https://doi.org/10.1071/MF09073
Submitted: 1 April 2009  Accepted: 10 December 2009   Published: 23 July 2010

Abstract

Metastability may arise in rivers subject to multiple disturbance processes because external constraints to ecosystem change sustain the metastable state; this has important implications for management, especially river restoration. The Glenelg River and its southern Australian landscape have been extensively studied by different researchers across many projects, and several restoration actions implemented across different reaches and spatial scales. Research involving diverse researchers and projects over extended periods shows strengths such as flexibility in pursuing emerging research questions, increased regional capacity by facilitating research training, and the generation of broader perspectives on river management. We conclude that metastability is a likely state for rivers with multiple interacting disturbances in regions with Mediterranean-type climates. In such rivers, disrupted relationships between the physical environment and ecological processes are likely, such that habitat restoration might have limited effectiveness. Restoration practices that constitute a disturbance might also risk disrupting metastability, or their impact may be limited because metastability confers resistance to further disturbance. Restoration may be more effectively targeted at less-disturbed reaches where ecosystems have a greater capacity to respond. Similarly, restoration in disturbed reaches might be more effectively directed at supporting metastability in the face of landscape change, than attempting to restore antecedent conditions.

Additional keywords: Glenelg River, restoration ecology, river management, river restoration, science communication.


Acknowledgements

The authors would like to acknowledge the positive influence of Prof. Peter Cullen in raising the profile of river health and the need for active river management in Australia. B.R. also thankfully acknowledges the interest in, and support for her work shown by Peter in the last years of his life. We would also like to thank the many authors who have worked on the Glenelg River and made this review possible. In particular, our past PhD students: Peter Lind, Travis Howson and Kerrylyn Johnston. Ben Gawne, Darren Ryder and Sabine Schreiber are thanked for valuable comments on the manuscript. Lastly, we have worked with many river managers over the years, and thank them for their contribution to our research and their tireless efforts on behalf of the Glenelg River.


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