Sethi SA, O'Hanley JR, Gerken J, Ashline J, Bradley C. (2017) High value of ecological information for river connectivity restoration. Landscape Ecology 32: 2327-2336.
Context: Efficient restoration of longitudinal river connectivity relies on barrier mitigation prioritization tools that incorporate stream network spatial structure to maximize ecological benefits given limited resources. Typically, ecological benefits of barrier mitigation are measured using proxies such as the amount of accessible riverine habitat. Objectives: We developed an optimization approach for barrier mitigation planning which directly incorporates the ecology of managed taxa, and applied it to an urbanizing salmon-bearing watershed in Alaska. Methods: A novel river connectivity metric that exploits information on the distribution and movement of managed taxon was embedded into a barrier prioritization framework to identify optimal mitigation actions given limited restoration budgets. The value of ecological information on managed taxa was estimated by comparing costs to achieve restoration targets across alternative barrier prioritization approaches. Results: Barrier mitigation solutions informed by life history information outperformed those using only river connectivity proxies, demonstrating high value of ecological information for watershed restoration. In our study area, information on salmon ecology was typically valued at 0.8-1.2M USD in costs savings to achieve a given benefit level relative to solutions derived only from stream network information, equating to 16-28% of the restoration budget. Conclusions: Investing in ecological studies may achieve win-win outcomes of improved understanding of aquatic ecology and greater watershed restoration efficiency.