Evaluation of Ecological Function of Urban Riparian and Stream Systems: Guiding Ecological Restoration in Austin, Texas, USA
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Restoration ecology seeks to restore ecosystem function and biodiversity in natural systems impacted by human activities. Restoration of riparian areas is a common recommendation of water management plans today and often deemed necessary to maintain ecosystem sustainability. Assessment of the condition of ecosystems is a critical prerequisite for alleviating effects of the multiple anthropogenic stresses imposed on them. To best determine ecosystem function of a group of urban streams, leaf-litter decomposition was used as an integrated metric for assessing anthropogenic impacts. I measured leaf-litter decomposition rate with two species, Texas Red Oak (Quercus texana) and American Sycamore (Platanus occidentalis), as a response variable between reference and degraded riparian sites. Other measured variables were macroinvertebrate colonization in leaf bags, riparian soil composition including metals and nutrients, water quality, and water temperature. Results include no significant differences in water quality variables and leaf-litter decomposition between different riparian sites. Soil composition variables do demonstrate regional patterns, including higher nutrient and metal concentrations at sites farthest south, but irrespective of riparian site status. Similar leaf pack macroinvertebrate colonization patterns and biomass values were observed for both leaf species, irrespective of riparian site status. Using these results to compare sites that have a history of riparian disturbance to sites with fewer disturbances will have a potential to help guide future riparian restoration activities.