Landscape metrics integrated in hydraulic modeling for river restoration planning.
Engineers have shaped the environment across the centuries in order to improve the quality and safety of human life. The unrestrained invasion of nature led to significant environmental problems, for this reason nowadays engineering projects should be based on ecological concepts to protect our environment. This paper presents an integrated methodology that involves GIS tools, hydraulic numerical models, and landscape metrics to investigate ecological consequences caused by river restoration activities. The combined use of these different tools represents a bridge to connect the field of engineering with ecological techniques. The proposed method was tested to predict and assess the influence of a river restoration plan on a reach of the Orco river located in the northwest of Italy. Morphological alterations were simulated to reconnect remnant meanders and provide water to the floodplain, enhancing the ecological value of riparian ecosystems. The application of the hydraulic model permitted to evaluate the distribution of water inside the study area before and after the restoration plan. Thereafter, spatial configuration and temporal dynamics of the landscape structures were quantified using landscape metrics. The increase of patch density (PD) by 9% and edge density (ED) up to 10% highlights that restoration activities lead to a new configuration characterized by a higher level of fragmentation and heterogeneity. The characteristics of versatility, repeatability, and the possibility to predict the outcomes of a specific plan make the proposed method a useful tool that could help decision-makers to manage the territory while safeguarding natural ecosystems.