Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Units Program: Massachusetts
Education, Research and Technical Assistance for Managing Our Natural Resources

Roy, A.H., M.J. Paul, and S.J. Wenger. 2010. Chapter 16: Urban Stream Ecology. Pages 341-352 In J A Aitkenhead-Peterson and A Volder (eds). Urban Ecosystem Ecology. Agronomy Monograph 55, American Society of Agronomy, Madison, WI.


Urban watersheds characteristically have high impervious surface cover, resulting in high surface runoff and low infiltration following storms. In response, urban streams experience “flashy” stormflows, reduced baseflows, bank erosion, channel widening, and sedimentation. Urban watersheds also typically exhibit high nutrient, total ion, and contaminant concentrations. This harsh physical and chemical environment tends to produce biotic assemblages of low diversity dominated by tolerant and nonnative species. Ecosystem processes in urban streams also differ from nonurban streams, with fast leaf breakdown rates, reduced nutrient uptake, and high respiration rates, although these responses are not universal. The ecology of urban streams is variable among systems, depending on the natural environment (e.g., climate, geology, vegetation) and anthropogenic stresses (e.g., age, type, and extent of development; riparian deforestation; stormwater piping). Thus, management efforts must be geared toward urban stressors specific to each ecosystem if more diverse assemblages and more natural ecosystem processing are desired.