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Research article2022Peer reviewedOpen access

Virtual landscape-scale restoration of altered channels helps us understand the extent of impacts to guide future ecosystem management

Paul, Siddhartho Shekhar; Hasselquist, Eliza Maher; Jarefjall, Amanda; Agren, Anneli M.


Human modification of hydrological connectivity of landscapes has had significant consequences on ecosystem functioning. Artificial drainage practices have fundamentally altered northern landscapes, yet these man made channels are rarely considered in ecosystem management. To better understand the effects of drainage ditches, we conducted a landscape-scale analysis across eleven selected study regions in Sweden. We implemented a unique approach by backfilling ditches in the current digital elevation model to recreate the prehistoric landscape, thus quantifying and characterizing the channel networks of prehistoric (natural) and current (drained) landscapes. Our analysis detected that 58% of the prehistoric natural channels had been converted to ditches. Even more striking was that the average channel density increased from 1.33 km km(-2) in the prehistoric landscape to 4.66 km km(-2) in the current landscape, indicating the extent of ditching activities in the northern regions. These results highlight that man-made ditches should be accurately mapped across northern landscapes to enable more informed decisions in ecosystem management.


Boreal landscape; Catchment area; Flow accumulation; LiDAR; Peatland; Soil

Published in

AMBIO: A Journal of the Human Environment
2022, Volume: 52, number: 1, pages: 182-194 Publisher: SPRINGER