Defining recovery potential in river restoration: A biological data-driven approach

Martin A. Wilkes, Morwenna McKenzie, Marc Naura, Laura Allen, Mike Morris, Marco Van De Wiel, Alex J. Dumbrell, Alessia Bani, Craig Lashford, Tom Lavers, Judy England

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    1 Citation (Scopus)
    27 Downloads (Pure)


    Scientists and practitioners working on river restoration have made progress on understanding the recovery potential of rivers from geomorphological and engineering perspectives. We now need to build on this work to gain a better understanding of the biological processes involved in river restoration. Environmental policy agendas are focusing on nature recovery, reigniting debates about the use of “natural” reference conditions as benchmarks for ecosystem restoration. We argue that the search for natural or semi-natural analogues to guide restoration planning is inappropriate due to the absence of contemporary reference conditions. With a catchment-scale case study on the invertebrate communities of the Warwickshire Avon, a fifth-order river system in England, we demonstrate an alternative to the reference condition approach. Under our model, recovery potential is quantified based on the gap between observed biodiversity at a site and the biodiversity predicted to occur in that location under alternative management scenarios. We predict that commonly applied restoration measures such as reduced nutrient inputs and the removal of channel resectioning could be detrimental to invertebrate diversity, if applied indiscriminately and without other complementary measures. Instead, our results suggest considerable potential for increases in biodiversity when restoration measures are combined in a way that maximises biodiversity within each water body.

    Original languageEnglish
    Article number3339
    Number of pages16
    JournalWater (Switzerland)
    Issue number23
    Publication statusPublished - 24 Nov 2021

    Bibliographical note

    This article is an open access article distributed under the terms and
    conditions of the Creative Commons Attribution (CC BY) license ( 4.0/)


    • Biodiversity
    • Data-driven
    • Ecosystem assessment
    • Recovery potential
    • River restoration

    ASJC Scopus subject areas

    • Geography, Planning and Development
    • Biochemistry
    • Aquatic Science
    • Water Science and Technology


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