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Signal crayfish burrowing, bank retreat and sediment supply to rivers: a biophysical sediment budget

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journal contribution
posted on 08.02.2021, 14:04 by Harry Sanders, Stephen Rice, Paul Wood
Burrowing into riverbanks by animals transfers sediment directly into river channels and has been hypothesised to accelerate bank erosion and promote mass failure. A field monitoring study on two UK rivers invaded by signal crayfish (Pacifastacus leniusculus) assessed the impact of burrowing on bank erosion processes. Erosion pins were installed in 17 riverbanks across a gradient of crayfish burrow densities and monitored for 22-months. Bank retreat increased significantly with crayfish burrow density. At the bank scale (<6 m river length), high crayfish burrow densities were associated with accelerated bank retreat of up to 253% and more than a doubling of the area of bank collapse, compared to banks without burrows. Direct sediment supply by burrowing activity contributed 0.2% and 0.6% of total sediment at the reach (1.1 km) and local bank (<6 m) scales. However, accelerated bank retreat caused by burrows contributed 12.2% and 29.8% of the total sediment supply at the reach and bank scales. Together, burrowing and the associated acceleration of retreat and collapse supplied an additional 25.4 t km-1 a -1 of floodplain sediments at one site, demonstrating the substantial impact that signal crayfish can have on fine sediment supply. For the first time, an empirical relation linking animal burrow characteristics to riverbank retreat is presented. The study adds to a small number of sediment budget studies that compare sediment fluxes driven by biotic and abiotic energy but is unique in isolating and measuring the substantial interactive effect of the acceleration of abiotic bank erosion facilitated by biotic activity. Biotic energy expended through burrowing represents an energy surcharge to the river system that can augment sediment erosion by geophysical mechanisms



  • Social Sciences and Humanities


  • Geography and Environment

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Earth Surface Processes and Landforms




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This is an Open Access Article. It is published by wiley under the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 Unported Licence (CC BY). Full details of this licence are available at: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/

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Prof Stephen Rice Deposit date: 18 January 2021

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