Two-zone model for stream and river ecosystems

Omar I. Abdul-Aziz, Bruce N. Wilson, John S. Gulliver

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Scopus citations


A mechanistic two-zone model is developed to represent the food web dynamics of stream and river ecosystems by considering the benthic and nonbenthic (or water-column) zones as two separate, but interacting biotopes. Flow processes, solar radiation, and temperature are the dynamic external environmental drivers. State variables are defined to represent the hierarchical levels of detritus, limiting nutrient, vegetation, and invertebrates. The fish trophic level is included as a constant input parameter. Model parameters, constants, and boundary conditions are defined based on watershed as well as channel hydrology, stream geomorphology, and biological activities. Recent advances in ecological science and engineering are used in representing important biogeochemical processes. In particular, the turbulent diffusion, as well as sloughing or detachment, processes are defined based on these recent advancements. The two-zone model was evaluated for a gravel bed prealpine Swiss stream named River Necker with data for the study period of January 1992 through December 1994. The model was able to capture the general trends and magnitudes of the food web state variables. A comprehensive relative sensitivity analysis with five moment-based measures found that approximately 5% of the model parameters were important in predicting benthic vegetation. Results of sensitivity analysis guided the model calibration. Simulated benthic vegetation with the calibrated model, which was obtained by adjusting only four parameters, corresponded with observed data. Hydrology-dependent sloughing and detachment were dominant in determining the response of benthic vegetation and invertebrates. The proposed two-zone food web model is a potentially useful research tool for stream and river ecosystems.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)85-107
Number of pages23
StatePublished - Jan 2010

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Acknowledgments The research described in this article was funded by a doctoral dissertation fellowship from the University of Minnesota and a total maximum daily load grant from the United States Environmental Protection Agency. Evaluation data sets were collected from Urs Uehlinger of the Swiss Federal Institute of Environmental Sciences and Technology (EAWAG) and Pascal Burri of the Swiss Federal Office for the Environment. We express our extended gratitude to Urs Uehlinger for generously sharing his knowledge as well as valuable data sets of the Necker site with us. Important suggestions from Claudia Neuhauser and Raymond Newman from the University of Minnesota are gratefully acknowledged. Thanks to the anonymous reviewers for providing valuable critics and insightful comments, and to the Editor for a prudent handling of the article.


  • Evaluation
  • Food web
  • Management
  • River and stream ecosystems
  • Two-zone model


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