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Process-based Principles for Restoring River Ecosystems

Process-based restoration aims to reestablish normative rates and magnitudes of physical, chemical, and biological processes that sustain river and floodplain ecosystems. Ecosystem conditions at any site are governed by hierarchical regional, watershed, and reach-scale processes controlling hydrologic and sediment regimes; floodplain and aquatic habitat dynamics; and riparian and aquatic biota. We outline and illustrate four process-based principles that ensure river restoration will be guided toward sustainable actions: (1) restoration actions should address the root causes of degradation, (2) actions must be consistent with the physical and biological potential of the site, (3) actions should be at a scale commensurate with environmental problems, and (4) actions should have clearly articulated expected outcomes for ecosystem dynamics. Applying these principles will help avoid common pitfalls in river restoration, such as creating habitat types that are outside of a site's natural potential, attempting to build static habitats in dynamic environments, or constructing habitat features that are ultimately overwhelmed by unconsidered system drivers.

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