How Driftwood Builds Landscapes

Here I am collecting wood measurements on the Slave River, NWT, Canada. (Photo by Leif Anderson, July 2013)
Here I am collecting wood measurements on the Slave River, NWT, Canada. (Photo by Leif Anderson, July 2013)

I study driftwood in rivers. I have travelled to rivers and creeks in Canada, the United States, Colombia, Chile, Honduras, Mexico, Peru, Italy, and Switzerland noting the abundance, or lack thereof, of streamside wood. For the past few years I have intensively studied the transport and impacts of large amounts of driftwood on big rivers and lakes in Northern Canada (partly funded by the National Geographic Committee for Research and Exploration).

When I speak to people about my research they always ask, “Why driftwood?” For many it seems an odd thing to study because driftwood (in rivers) isn’t something that most people notice. In fact, several perception studies have shown that throughout the world most people actually relate dead wood along stream channels with the need to restore or clean up the river channel.

In reality, driftwood is a very important component of all natural waterscapes.

Driftwood alters the physical form of banks and ­­­­­­­­­shorelines, creating patchwork landscapes that support higher levels of biodiversity and ecosystem functioning than in the absence of wood.

Driftwood is an important line of defense along coastal beaches against erosion by waves, which is especially important as sea levels rise.

World-wide dispersal of organisms is often attributed to rafting on wood across oceans, and sunken wood in the deep ocean supports webs of life that would otherwise not exist in such an extreme environment with no light source to fuel plant growth.

Driftwood facilitates the formation of forested island bars. Liard River, British Columbia, Canada. (Photo by Natalie Kramer Anderson, Sept 2013)
Driftwood facilitates the formation of forested island bars. Liard River, British Columbia, Canada. (Photo by Natalie Kramer Anderson, Sept 2013)

There is a striking difference in driftwood —> Read More

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