Stochastic and Deterministic Origins of Aquatic and Riparian Habitats

by Lee E. Benda,
Daniel J. Miller,

Document Type: Proceeding Paper

Part of: Watershed Management and Operations Management 2000


Development of aquatic and riparian habitats involves interactions among large numbers of climatic, geomorphic, hydrologic, and vegetative processes over time. A major component of these habitats depends on the supply, routing, and storage of inorganic and organic materials that originate from terrestrial sources. A stochastic climate and history of climate provide a degree of randomness in the supply of sediment and organic debris to channel networks. Topography and channel network geometry imposes a partial organization in the routing and storage of those materials. Hence, aquatic and riparian habitats have both deterministic and stochastic origins. The study of the former at the landscape scale has taken the form of continuums, spatial hierarchies, and classification systems. Studies that have incorporated the latter have been referred to as disturbance ecology, temporal hierarchies, pulses, and landscape dynamics. Despite a sustained interest in ecological processes over a range of scales, it has proven difficult to develop general principles of habitat development that addresses both deterministic and stochastic landscapes factors. One example of this limitation is the nagging inability to fully define natural disturbance regimes or natural ranges of variability, particularly in aquatic and riparian environments. This problem has also hindered the development of theory and has created a dependence on empiricims, case studies, and classification, with an emphasis on spatial determinism. Moreover, theory absence discourages hypothesis testing and commensurable research (similar things measured in similar ways), and potentially increases the perceived difficulty of landscape-scale problems. The absence of theory pertinent to landscape scales also weakens the development of management, regulatory, and restoration policies by federal and state agencies, and by private industry.

Subject Headings: Stochastic processes | Aquatic habitats | Landscaping | Climates | Channels (waterway) | Organic matter | Ecosystems | Case studies

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