Summer in the meadow

Summer in the meadow
Beaver Creek, Idaho, USA

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Transitions != time to update academic blogs.

So, a busy summer gave way to a busy fall, which gave way to a busy winter. This means that my scientific blogging has ground to a halt.

While I usually like a paper submitting, skintrack blazing kind of winter, this one has been more of a snowy highway driving, box unpacking, administrative catch-up playing, cat-herding season. But hey, at least I get to revise some papers and work on a proposal this week between dissecting trees and playing "lord of the rings."

Anyhow - there are several planned blog posts revisiting 2015 and looking ahead to 2016 for the Society of Wetland Scientists' Pacific Northwest Chapter, presenting research briefs for each paper I've written, and hopefully, bearing some good news.

For now, here's a picture and a promise that, as the dust settles, I'll work more toward communicating my and other researchers' ecology again in 2016.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Society of Wetland Scientists 2016 Rocky Mountain Meeting

The Society of Wetland Scientists Rocky Mountain Chapter is holding their annual meeting at the American Mountaineering Center in Golden, CO, this April 13th. They're currently accepting abstracts, sponsors, travel grants, and more. Click below for more information:
Full announcement at:

Monday, December 21, 2015

Article Alert: #Beaver #Restoration Assessment Toolkit in press at #Geomorphology

In the spring of 2013 I sat down with Wally Macfarlane, Martha Jensen, Joe Wheaton, and a handful of others and we walked through an early workflow for what is now the Beaver Restoration Assessment Toolkit (BRAT). The idea for BRAT was simple: using basic hydrologic and riparian vegetation metrics, scientists and planners can estimate where along a stream network beaver dams will be able to persist. What if there was a tool that used widely available, free data to estimate dam capacity across entire watersheds? What might it tell land managers, many of whom are considering beaver management as a part of their watershed management and restoration plans?

One major benefit to knowing where beaver dams can be built and persist is for planning beaver relocation and stream restoration. By building hypotheses about where beaver will successfully be able to build dams, land managers can more successfully move beaver from problem areas like urban and irrigation infrastructure to conservation areas. Across Utah and the North American West, many of these conservation areas include streams where beaver and their dams have been removed. This beaver loss has altered water and sediment movement that historically created and maintained step-pool complexes or alluvial valley bottom meadows, and increased streamflow duration. Beaver removal, which caused dam loss, often occurred as Europeans settled the West. In some cases, human land-use also led to direct dam removal that changed channel slope and allowed channels to incise, lowering the stream bed until floodplain disconnection was inevitable.

A little incision following long-term grazing, UT, USA
The EPA's wadeable stream assessment estimated that 41% of the West's streams are in poor shape, many of which have been modified for human land use that led to beaver and beaver dam loss. 

In short, many U.S. streams are in sub-optimal shape. Source, EPA Wadeable Streams Assessment
Now, given the condition of most of the West's streams (see below), we know that there is a need for a flexible restoration planning tool that anyone can use - tribes, state and federal agencies, and local watershed planners. Wally and Joe dreamed up a framework that uses LANDFIRE data and NHD stream segments to estimate beaver dam capacity based stream power and vegetation types. If a stream is perennial and not so large and powerful that it blows out dams at an average flood discharge, then it might support dams. If the riparian vegetation within a reasonable distance of the stream is of a preferred type (i.e. a type that beaver can readily eat and use in constructing dams), then beaver can probably build more dams than if the vegetation is sparse or a low quality material for dam building. Areas with gallery cottonwood forests and/or willow thickets are probably better for building dams than sagebrush or cheatgrass. So, if beaver have enough water, but not too much, and a good vegetation source, they can build dams, dams that have a variety of ecological benefits.

Using these relatively obvious concepts, Wally and Joe labored for years alongside an army of technicians and other hydrologists, ecologists and geomorphologists, including Nic "big body" Bouwes, Martha "Superwoman" Jensen, Jordan "GIS" Gilbert, John "I don't know him well enough for a clever nickname" Shivik, and I. From 2013 to 2015, we all either applied this framework to small watersheds, fine-tuning our methods and interpretations, or used model outputs to implement and assess stream restoration projects. We all wrote and interpreted results, and Martha and Wally made some absolutely gorgeous figures. Much of this work came out in large, unwieldy technical reports or was assimilated into the tutorial website at brat,

The resulting manuscript came out earlier this month and explains the rationale for the model and its applications, synthesizing the condition of many Utah streams relative to their potential to retain beaver dams that might restore those suffering from historic floodplain disconnection. Many streams where beaver have been removed currently have far fewer beaver dams than the landscape can support. Utah has serious upside potential to restore stream-floodplain connectivity, riparian vegetation, and aquatic habitat diversity through beaver and their dams. This manuscript synthesizes those model results and provides examples in physiographically diverse watersheds where beaver relocation is being considered for stream and riparian habitat restoration. I encourage you to check  it out at Geomorphology.

Macfarlane, W.W., J.M. Wheaton, N. Bouwes, M.L. Jensen, J.T. Gilbert, N. Hough-Snee, J.A. Shivik. In Press. Modeling the capacity of riverscapes to support beaver dams. Geomorphology. DOI: 10.1016/j.geomorph.2015.11.019

Free, publicly-available PDF at Researchgate

See additional BRAT reports, instructional videos and applications at

Friday, December 4, 2015

Soundtrack to #FridayNightScience: dissertation prep version

Arizona may have more storage capacity than water right now.
When you're at the office alone, editing a powerpoint, and talking to yourself before you defense...sometimes you just need some tunes.

Monday, October 26, 2015

#Students in #Wetlands: A #Multicultural Mentoring Program @SWS_org

The Society of Wetland Scientists provides competitive, all-expense paid opportunities for students from historically underrepresented groups to attend their national meetings, attend NSF-sponsored leadership programming, and interact with the ESA Seeds Program. It's a fantastic program, led by some very dedicated volunteers, and serving absolute rock star undergraduates during an important career stage. 

If you stumble upon this, please distribute the following announcement widely within your networks, via social media, etc. See the attached flier for details or visit: 

Monday, October 19, 2015

Ten things not to try and do the semester you plan on defending your PhD and graduating...

If you're trying to finish your PhD this semester, I have a couple recommendations on how to finish quickly. Don't do any of these, and certainly don't do all of them. That'd be crazy.

1. Try to sell a house.

2. Try to move ten hours away.

3. Try to move all of your junk out of your house that you're selling to move ten hours away.

4. Run a 100-mile race.

5. Take the recovery period required for a 100-mile race (spoiler alert: it takes a while to get the pop back in your, well, everything).

6. Tell your spouse it's a good time for a major operation, following which, you will be taking care of her/him and responsible for their mobility.

7. Chair an out-of-town conference for a professional society.

8. Travel for said conference.

9. Spend your acclimation week post-conference that you shouldn't have chaired working entirely on side projects and finishing overdue manuscript reviews.

10. Let people you love die or get cancer.

If you didn't do any of those things yet, then, lucky you! If you did, here are some pictures of what it might have looked like.

A photo posted by Lex (@lexinelou) on

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Article alert: #Environmental filters & #biotic interactions shape #riparian vegetation guild distributions @ESA_org #Ecosphere

Article alert: Multi-scale environmental filters and niche partitioning govern the distributions of riparian vegetation guilds

How are riparian plant species with shared life-history strategies, or "riparian vegetation guilds" distributed across landscapes? What environmental resources and processes influence these distributions? How does competition influence guild distributions and coexistence?

These are but a few fundamental questions in riparian plant community. They also happen to be the questions that I set out to answer somewhere in the summer of 2013, using vegetation and stream data collected across the U.S. Pacific Northwest. After doing some community analyses (see Hough-Snee et al 2014a) and work to see how riparian vegetation influenced instream large wood (Hough-Snee et al 2014b) in the same region, I turned my attention to identifying groups of species that occur along streams and that have clearly shared life history strategies, or riparian vegetation guilds (sensu Merritt et al 2009Merritt et al. 2010). My idea was that these life history strategies have been most commonly studied in response to a single resource or disturbance gradient, often hydrology.

When creating riparian flow-response guilds, species are grouped based on their traits that relate to water balance and tolerance of fluvial disturbance. By identifying which guilds have more hydrophytic or xeric strategies, guilds can be modeled to predict how vegetation changes as flows are modified by dams or diversions. I am a firm believer in this concept as a decision support tool. I also realize that not all streams' vegetation will respond to hydrology in a uniform fashion. For example, large, alluvial rivers will often show distinct vegetation on surfaces with different flood recurrence intervals. Bars and low terraces that are flooded frequently often exhibit more mesic and disturbance tolerant species (guilds) than infrequently inundated high terraces, hill slopes or canyon walls that have less obligate fluvial species and more drought and upland disturbance (e.g. wildfire) tolerant vegetation.

Guilds were determined using clustering of woody species by their component functional and morphological attributes. 
The dataset we used was small, low-order, wadeable streams, many of which are headwater streams where hill slopes and channels connect. This convergence between uplands and streams allows many environmental filters to shape what species occur at a given location. I set out with some friends and colleagues to put together a database of traits that describe each species' life form, persistence and growth, reproduction, and resource use in the riparian environment. By taking an exhaustive approach, we hoped to capture guilds that responded to multiple disturbance, resource and competition axes.

Guilds were differentiated based on numerous differences in above- and belowground architecture, stress responses, resource use, growth rate, etcc.
Immediately we ran into a problem: of the hundreds of species in the study region, very few had sufficient trait data to use exclusively quantitative traits that describe water and energy balance, and resource use. For many herbaceous species, simple categorical descriptions of rooting strategy and leaf type were often hard to come by. Based on this limitation, we reduced our trait-species search to those woody species in the dataset that occurred in 5% of sample reaches.

After creating the species-trait database with collaborators, Lloyd Nackley, Lexine Long, and Brian Laub, we quantitatively identified five guilds: (1) a tall, deeply rooted, long-lived, evergreen tree guild, (2) a xeric, disturbance tolerant shrub guild, (3) a hydrophytic, thicket-forming shrub guild, (4) a low-statured, shade-tolerant, understory shrub guild, and (5) a flood tolerant, mesoriparian shrub guild. Next, I worked with Dave Merritt of the USFS, and my trusty committee member, Brett Roper and committee chair, Joe Wheaton to model each guild's distributions. We modeled these guilds presence and absence across the Columbia and Missouri River Basins, particularly their responses to hydrogeomorphic setting, upland disturbances, landscape forest cover, and biotic competition with other guilds.
Guilds, unlike communities, are not always sets of co-occurring species, but sets of life history strategies that may or may no occur on a landscape. Here is an ordination of the combination of co-occuring guilds plotted alongside correlations with environmental filters (A - C) and guild occurrence (D).
The punchline: each guild corresponded uniquely to multiple environmental filters that would likely select for each guild's set of functional and morphological attributes (traits). Where guilds coexisted, their traits often shaped each guild's niches so that these guilds could co-occur. For example, at sites where large, long-lived, canopy-forming evergreen trees occurred, smaller statured species with shade tolerant strategies or strategies that tolerate edge effects (disturbance) often occurred as well. From this work, we find that riparian guilds' distributions are shaped by both biotic interactions and pressures from different sets of environmental filters.

As of Monday, I am pleased to announce that you can read more on this work directly at Ecosphere, the open-access journal of the Ecological Society of America. The article is also hosted at Researchgate, if that's your preferred archive. Supplemental Materials are available at Ecological Archives.

Big thanks to the team of folks who provided feedback on this work, read early drafts, and provided encouragement. It's all greatly appreciated!

Friday, September 18, 2015

Society of Wetland Scientists Pacific Northwest Chapter Meeting Program Announced @SWS_org

Schoenoplectus maritimus. Photo by Lexine Long
I'm pleased to announce that the final program is now available for the SWS-PNW Chapter Meeting:

The conference runs October 6-8 in olympia, WA.

The Dr. Joy Zedler is keynoting. The full program is embedded below:

For more information, see the SWS-PNW website.

Monday, September 14, 2015

Article alert: Hydrogeomorphic and Biotic Drivers of Instream Wood Differ Across Sub-basins of the Columbia River Basin, USA

Full article:
Please email me or link to Researchgate for PDF of final version.
My ET-AL teammates Alan Kasprak and Becca Rossi, Fluvial Habitat Center bosses, Joe Wheaton and Nick Bouwes, and USFS fish biologist, Brett Roper and I recently finished up an effort to model the abundance of instream large wood across the Columbia River Basin, USA. Instream wood, also known as large wood, large woody debris, etc., is an important component of stream and river evolution, and is monitored in many habitat programs across North America. As water flows over and around wood jams and pieces, local velocity changes, causing heterogeneous areas of erosion and deposition around the wood. For example, as water is forced around a piece of wood, velocity increases around the edges and porous root networks. Immediately downstream of a large piece of wood, this increase in velocity may cause sediment scour that forces pools to form. Similarly, as a flood over the wood recedes, velocity over wood slows allowing sediment to deposit and forming bars. Because of how wood causes heterogeneous velocity across a stream, it is an important driver of stream planform and channel complexity that provide diverse and dynamic aquatic and riparian habitats.
Site photos from each of the seven sub-basins.

This project, a part of the Columbia Habitat Monitoring Program (CHaMP), looked at wood loads, and the hydrogeomorphic and ecological factors that correspond to them in seven CHaMP-monitored watersheds. Historically, models of wood have been site specific, providing detailed inference into the processes that shape wood recruitment, transport, and storage at a single reach or a few reaches. In contrast, watershed managers, including habitat restoration biologists and stream restoration practitioners, often need to know what processes or pattern correspond to a given habitat attribute at broad scales. In the Pacific Northwest of the continental United States, numerous sub-basins are monitored for trends in their condition over time. Because wood may be the primary element shaping aquatic habitats in small streams, reaches or entire watersheds, areas that lack wood should be identified for restoration. More importantly, areas that are inherently wood-limited by the processes that grow trees, recruit them to the channel, and move them throughout a stream network should be identified. By identifying these patterns, basin-specific hypotheses (and models) can be constructed
Study reaches within the Wenatchee (A), Entiat (B), Tucannon (C), John Day (D), Grande Ronde (E), Lemhi (F), and South Fork Salmon (G) basins, USA. 
In this research, we identified that wood loads differ between sub-basins of the Columbia River Basin, and that the processes responsible for growing and transporting wood also differ between these sub-basins. Accordingly, a sub-basin without sufficient climate to grow forest vegetation or the hydrology and channel form to accumulate, rather than transport, wood will be intrinsically wood-limited. If wood is part of a habitat restoration or management plan in these wood limited streams, then restoration that introduces wood to channels (sensu Camp's HDLWD), restores forests that grow trees, or retains wood that is already in channels, may be necessary. In unconfined, valley bottoms where wood typically arrives from upstream forested areas, actions that encourage wood retention could include reintroducing beaver, maintaining keystone large wood, or using post lines to collect wood. In many cases, targets for wood should shift away form homogeneous, one size fits all approaches, instead targeting the mechanisms or processes that limit wood, and it's influence on habitat dynamism.
Instream wood differed in volume and frequency across the seven monitored sub-basins. Note that the John Day and Lemhi have much less wood than the other sub-basins.
For example, the South Fork Salmon is a wet, forested sub-basin with abundant wood while the Lemhi and John Day (and even the Wenatchee and Upper Grande Ronde) have less discharge, fewer high magnitude floods, and less precipitation and forest cover that result in lower wood growth and reduced wood movement. Accordingly, in areas where disturbance (e.g. grazing, logging, wildfire) has removed riparian forest, channels have been levied or straightened (e.g. near roads), and forest vegetation is unlikely to naturally recover, restoration of wood may be difficult and rely on forest restoration to increase local wood loads.

For more information, check out the full article at River Research and Applications or look at the PeerJ pre-print. Please email me for a pdf of the final version, or download via Researchgate if you're unable to access it directly via RRA.

I thank Dr. Simon Dixon for a particularly thoughtful and generous review that greatly improved the manuscript.
Non-metric multidimensional scaling ordination (first two of three axes) shows that hydrology and forest growth, etc. differed (right side) across the seven basins (left side)

Friday, September 11, 2015