A framework for analyzing longitudinal and temporal variation in river flow and developing flow-ecology relationships

1024 681 Stroud Water Research Center

Larned, S.T., D.B. Arscott, J. Schmidt, and J.C. Diett. 2010. Journal of the American Water Resources Association 46(3):541–553.

doi: 10.1111/j.1752-1688.2010.00433.x


We propose a framework for analyzing longitudinal flow variation and exploring its ecological consequences in four steps: (1) generating longitudinally continuous flow estimates; (2) computing indices that describe site-specific and longitudinal flow variation, including intermittence; (3) quantifying and visualizing longitudinal dynamics; (4) developing quantitative relationships between hydrological indices and ecological variables (flow-ecology relationships). We give examples of each step, using data from a New Zealand river and an empirical longitudinal flow model, ELFMOD. ELFMOD uses spot-gauging data and flow or proxy variable time series to estimate flow magnitude and state (flowing or dry) at user-defined intervals along river sections. Analyses of flow-ecology relationships for the New Zealand river indicated that fish and benthic and hyporheic invertebrate communities responded strongly to variation in mean annual flow permanence, flow duration, dry duration, drying frequency, inter-flood duration, and distances to flowing reaches. To put longitudinal flow variation into a broader context and guide future research, we propose a conceptual model that combines elements of two contrasting perspectives: rivers as longitudinal continua, and rivers as patch mosaics. In this conceptual model, hydrologically complex rivers are composed of linear sequences of nested hydrological gradients, which are bordered by hydrogeomorphic discontinuities, and which collectively generate hydrological dynamics at river-section scales.