Northwest Fisheries Science Center

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Document Type: Journal Article
Center: NWFSC
Document ID: 8301
Title: The blurred line between form and process: a comparison of stream channel classification frameworks
Author: A. Kasprak, N. Hough-Snee, T. J. Beechie, Nicholaas Bouwes, G. Brierley, R. Camp, K. Fryirs, H. Imaki, Martha L. Jensen, G. O. O'Brien, Joseph M. Wheaton
Publication Year: 2016
Journal: PLoS ONE
Volume: 11
Issue: 3
Pages: 1-31
Keywords: Stream classification,watershed monitoring,River Styles,Natural Channel Design

Stream classification frameworks provide a means to understand the diversity and distributions of channel types that occur across a landscape while drawing linkages between geomorphic form and process.  Accordingly, stream classification is frequently employed as a watershed planning tool.  In practice, numerous frameworks are available to managers for classifying rivers, yet little information exists about how frameworks compare.  Specifically, the data, time, and expertise required to implement a given classification, the consistency of classification results, and the subsequent geomorphic interpretation between multiple frameworks have not been discussed following data-driven framework comparisons. 

Here we apply four classification methods across a physiographically diverse catchment within the American Pacific Northwest.  We compare the results of the River Styles Framework (RS), Natural Channel Classification (NCC), Natural Channel Design (NCD), and channel form-based statistical classification.  We found moderate agreement between NCC and NCD, as both are driven by reach-scale channel planform.  These classifications differ from RS, an effect of RS’ emphasizing broader, valley-scale confinement as a driving variable. 

Statistical classification is likely to shadow any classification based on similar data inputs—in this case channel slope, width and substrate.  We discuss the relative effort and disciplinary expertise required to complete each classification, noting that if a framework classifies current or pre-disturbance channel form, results can provide insight on watershed disturbance.  By using multiple frameworks to classify the same catchment, we are able to identify trade-offs between frameworks and make recommendations on how each framework mechanistically differs in grouping channels and their driving processes.

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Theme: Habitats to Support Sustainable Fisheries and Recovered Populations
Foci: Develop effective and efficient habitat restoration and conservation techniques.