Overview of case studies on recovery of aquatic systems from disturbance

Gerald J Niemi, Philip DeVore, Naomi Detenbeck, Debra Taylor, Ann Lima, John J Pastor, J. David Yount, Robert J. Naiman

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339 Scopus citations


An extensive review of the published literature identified more than 150 case studies in which some aspect of resilience in freshwater systems was reported. Approximately 79% of systems studied were lotic and the remainder lentic. Most of the stressor types were chemical with DDT (N=29) and rotenone (N=15) the most common. The most common nonchemical stressors were logging activity (N=16), flooding (N=8), dredging (N=3), and drought (N=7). The variety of endpoints to which recovery could be measured ranged from sparse data for phytoplankton (N=13), periphyton (N=6), and macrophytes (N=8) to relatively more data for fish (N=412) and macroinvertebrates (N=698). Unfortunately the same characteristics were rarely measured consistently among sites. For example, with respect to fish, more than 30 different species were studied and recovery was measured in many ways, most commonly on the basis of: (1) first reappearance of the species, (2) return time of predisturbance densities, and (3) return time of predisturbance average individual size. Based on these criteria, all systems in these studies seem to be resilient to most disturbances with most recovery times being less than three years. Exceptions included when (1) the disturbance resulted in physical alteration of the existing habitat, (2) residual pollutants remained in the system, or (3) the system was isolated and recolonization was suppressed.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)571-587
Number of pages17
JournalEnvironmental management
Issue number5
StatePublished - Sep 1 1990


  • Aquatic ecosystems
  • Disturbance
  • Fish
  • Macroinvertebrates
  • Recovery


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