Fish and aquatic salamander responses to the creation of riparian canopy gaps along forested headwater streams

Publications Type: 
Journal Article
Publication Number: 

Swartz, Allison; Warren, Dana. 2024. Fish and aquatic salamander responses to the creation of riparian canopy gaps along forested headwater streams. Restoration Ecology. 32(1): e14014. doi:


Many headwaters across temperate North America have uniform mid-succession riparian forests recovering from historic land clearing. These young riparian stands contrast with late-succession forests, which have complex structural characteristics including canopy gaps. Canopy gaps provide structural diversity that can be important for terrestrial species, and they are also hypothesized to be important features for aquatic environments. The light patches below gaps create productivity hotspots in streams and therefore create potential for increased stream apex predator abundances through bottom-up food web drivers. However, increasing light may also affect stream temperature, a consideration for coldwater fish (salmonids). We established an experimental before-after control-impact study to explicitly assess how creating canopy gaps in the riparian forest affects the abundance and biomass of coastal cutthroat trout (Oncorhynchus clarkii clarkii) and Pacific giant salamanders (Dicamptodon tenebrosus) in paired reference and treatment reaches at five replicate streams. Gaps were designed to resemble those in old-growth forests in the treatment reach of each system although wood was explicitly left out of the stream. At four of five sites, we found small and generally consistent positive responses in adult cutthroat trout and total vertebrate biomass to localized increases in light but only 2?years after treatment. Results suggest that opening riparian canopies adjacent to streams via gaps is a viable tool to enhance structural complexity of riparian forests without negatively impacting stream vertebrates; however, a single gap alone had small effects on aquatic vertebrates. More or larger gaps would likely be needed to notably enhance aquatic apex predators.
Keywords: canopy gap, coastal cutthroat trout, forest-stream interactions, HJ Andrews Experimental Forest, Pacific giant salamander, riparian forest