Temporary connectivity: The relative benefits of large river floodplain inundation in the lower Mississippi River


Studies have demonstrated the importance of the synergistic relationship between large rivers and adjacent floodplain connectivity. The majority of large rivers and their associated floodplain have been isolated through a series of expansive levee systems. Thus, evaluations of the relative importance of floodplain connectivity are limited due to the aforementioned anthropogenic perturbations. However, persistent elevated river levels during spring 2011 at the confluence of the Mississippi River and Ohio River prompted the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to create large gaps in the levee system producing an expansive floodplain (i.e. the New Madrid Floodway). Specifically, the New Madrid Floodway (approximately 475 km2) in southeast Missouri was created to divert part of the Mississippi River flow during catastrophic floods and thus alleviate flood risk on nearby population centers. Given the historic flooding of 2011, the floodway was opened and provided an unprecedented opportunity to evaluate the influence of floodplain inundation on fish species diversity, relative abundance, and growth. We sampled the floodplain and the adjacent river at three stratified random locations with replication biweekly from the commencement of inundation (late May) through early October. Overall, we found that species diversity, relative abundance, and growth were higher in the floodplain than the main river. Our data support previous examinations, including those outside North America, that suggest floodplain inundation may be important for riverine fishes. Given these apparent advantages of floodplain inundation, restoration efforts should balance benefits of floodplain inundation while safeguarding priority needs of humans.

Document Type





Channel catfish, Fish diversity, Floodplain connectivity, Floodplain restoration, Freshwater drum, Gizzard shad, Silver carp

Publication Date


Journal Title

Restoration Ecology