Channel reconfiguration is a popular but controversial approach to river restoration, and ecological responses to channel reconfiguration have not been rigorously assessed. We compared physical-habitat variables, taxonomic and functional-trait diversities, taxonomic composition, and functional-trait abundances between 24 pairs of upstream (control) and downstream reconfigured (restored) reaches in 3 catchment land uses (urban, agricultural, rural) across the North Carolina Piedmont. We asked how environmental filters and functional species traits might provide insight to biological responses to restoration. Taxonomic and functional-trait differences between control and restored reaches suggest that restoration affected aquatic assemblages only in agricultural and rural catchments. Our results highlight 2 important aspects of channel reconfiguration as a restoration practice. First, responses to restoration differ between agricultural/rural and urban catchments, possibly because of modified hydrological regimes caused by urbanization. Second, we find evidence that channel reconfiguration disturbs food and habitat resources in stream ecosystems. Taxa sensitive to disturbance were characteristic of control reaches, whereas insensitive taxa were characteristic of restored reaches. Abundances of traits related to reproduction (voltinism, development, synchronization of emergence, adult life span), mobility (occurrence in drift, maximum crawling rate, swimming ability), and use of resources (trophic and habitat preferences) differed significantly between control and recently restored reaches. Our results suggest that taxa in restored habitats are environmentally selected for traits favored in disturbed environments. Our work suggests how functional-trait approaches could benefit the practice of river restoration when used to target restoration activities and to develop informed expectations regarding recovery following restoration activities.
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