Doyle MW, Stanley EH, Orr CH, Selle AR, Sethi SA, Harbor JM. (2005) Stream ecosystem response to small dam removal: lessons from the Heartland. Geomorphology 71:227-44. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.geomorph.2004.04.011
In this paper, we synthesize a series of small dam removal studies to examine how changes in channel form can affect riparian vegetation, fish, macroinvertebrates, mussels, and nutrient dynamics. Each of the ecosystem attributes responded to the disturbance of dam removal in different ways and recovered at very different rates, ranging from months to decades. Riparian vegetation appeared to require the greatest time for recovery, while macroinvertebrates had the least. Mussel communities were the most adversely affected group of species and showed no signs of recovery during the time period of the study. Based on these and other studies, we suggest that ecosystems may follow two trajectories of recovery following dam removal. First, ecosystems may fully recover to pre-dam conditions, although this may be unlikely in many cases. Even if full recovery occurs, the timescales over which different attributes recover will vary greatly and may be perceived by the public or management agencies as not recovering at all. Second, ecosystems may only partially recover to pre-dam conditions as the legacy of environmental damage of long-term dam presence may not be reversible or because other watershed changes inhibit full recovery. The potential for full or partial recovery is likely driven by the sensitivity of particular organisms, the characteristics of the dam removed, and the local geomorphic conditions of the watershed. Scientists and management agencies should assess the potential for full or partial recovery prior to dam removal and, in particular, should identify those species or groups of species that are likely to not recover to pre-dam conditions. Such information is critical in the decision of whether, or how, to remove a dam.