Natural Resources, School of



Jonathan Spurgeon

Date of this Version



Published in River Research and Applications 37:3 (March 2021), pp 462–474.

DOI: 10.1002/rra.3763


Copyright © 2020 John Wiley & Sons Ltd. Used by permission.


River-wide changes in morphologic character following channelization and impoundment alter the occurrence and distribution of surface water and available habitats for aquatic organisms. Quantifying patterns of creation, redistribution or disappearance of habitats at river-wide and decadal spatiotemporal scales can promote understanding regarding trajectories of different habitat types following alteration and prospects of direct habitat enhancement projects within altered alluvial rivers. Newly available remote-sensing tools and databases may improve detection of river-wide changes in habitat through time. We used a combination of remote-sensing data and generalized linear models to assess changes in surface water coverage from 1984 to 2015 among aquatic habitats of 496 km of the Arkansas River within Arkansas, USA. Changes through time in surface area of permanent and episodically inundated areas — and thus the availability of aquatic habitat — were variable along the river. Overall, the river lost a total 2.1% of permanent and 12.1% of episodic water surface area. The general trend of loss of off-main-channel habitat and increased coverage of permanent water along main-channel habitats may indicate a long-term transition (i.e. ramp-type disturbance) within areas of the Arkansas River where backwaters are transitioning to terrestrial environments, and habitat heterogeneity in the main channel is decreasing. As such, a decadal-scale change of channel form and backwater habitats may be the dominant pattern with limited regeneration of diverse habitat types. Understanding changes to permanent and episodic water availability may aid predictions regarding ecological effects of channelization and impoundments, including both increases and decreases in riverine productivity, biotic diversity and population abundances through space and time. Water resource managers and biologists can use information regarding river-wide changes in habitat availability obtained through remote sensing data to direct river management practices, including dredging and side-channel construction, and to assess ecological responses to such changes.