Several faculty associated with the Missouri River Institute (MRI) at the University of South Dakota are part of a new $30,000 grant funded by the National Park Service to study the impact of a backwater restoration project on plant and animal biodiversity on the 59-mile District of the Missouri National Recreational River.
The National Park Service owns property at Bow Creek Recreation Area, near Wynot, Nebraska, and will be restoring a backwater area at this property during the fall of 2018. The restoration project will involve excavation of a former backwater channel to reconnect it with the Missouri River along with seeding of terrestrial and aquatic plants along the restored backwater area.
Backwaters are wetlands that are connected to the river, but are not in the river channel proper. These habitats provide important low-velocity habitats that are crucial for river biodiversity, especially for use as nursery habitats for fish and amphibians. Because of the changes in river flow regulation by the upstream dams on the Missouri River, the occurrence and extent of off-channel habitats, such as backwaters, has been greatly reduced. Many former backwaters have lost their connection with the river channel so that they cannot serve the critical nursery function, especially for river fish. The research project will assist with an understanding of how plants and animals respond to the restoration of a critical backwater area along the river.
MRI faculty Jeff Wesner, Mark Dixon and David Swanson, along with some undergraduate student field technicians, will work with National Park Service-Missouri National Recreational River biologists to sample aquatic and terrestrial plant, aquatic invertebrate, fish and amphibian populations in and around the backwater before and after the restoration project. Sampling will be conducted during the summer of 2018 to gather pre-restoration biodiversity measurements and again in the summer of 2019 for post-restoration biodiversity measurements. The project will also capitalize on the current cooperative internship program between the MRI and the MNRR to use the interns for the pre-restoration data collection.