Predictions of the future climate infer that stream water temperatures may increase in temperate lowland areas and that streams without riparian forest will be particularly prone to elevated stream water temperature. Planting of riparian forest is a potential mitigation measure to reduce water temperatures for the benefit of stream organisms. However, no studies have yet determined the length of a forested reach required to obtain a significant temperature decrease. To investigate this we measured the temperature in five small Danish lowland streams from June 2010 to July 2011, all showing a sharp transition between an upstream open reach and a downstream forested reach. In all stream reaches we also measured canopy cover and a range of physical variables characterizing the streams reaches. This allowed us to analyse differences in mean daily temperature and amplitude per month among forested and open sections as well as to study annual temperature regimes and the influence of physical conditions on temperature changes. Stream water temperature in the open reaches was affected by heating, and in July we observed an increase in temperature over the entire length of the investigated reaches, reaching temperatures higher than the incipient lethal limit for brown trout. Along the forest reaches a significant decrease in July temperatures was recorded immediately (100 m) when the stream moved into the forested area. In three of our study streams the temperature continued to decrease the longer the stream entered into the forested reach, and the temperature decline did not reach a plateau. The temperature increases along the open reaches were accompanied by stronger daily temperature variation; however, when the streams entered into the forest, the range in daily variation decreased. Multiple regression analysis of the combined effects on stream water temperature of canopy cover, Width/Depth ratio, discharge, current velocity and water temperature revealed that canopy cover and Width/Depth were the two variables responsible for the reduced temperature observed when the streams enter the forest. In consequence, we conclude that even relatively short stretches (100–500 m) of forest alongside streams may combat the negative effects of heating of stream water and that forest planting can be a useful mitigation measure.
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