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Thu Nov 17, 2016, 01:56 AM

An Ecosystem's Lifeblood, Flowing Through Gravel (NY Times)

MISSOULA, Mont. — They are beautiful, glistening icons of the West, filled with life and history. But there is far more to mountain rivers, scientists are learning, than the water churning between their banks.

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“A river doesn’t just flow down the channel,” said F. Richard Hauer, a professor of stream ecology at the University of Montana and the lead author of the paper. “It flows over and through the entire flood plain system, from valley wall to valley wall, and supports an extraordinary diversity of life.”

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Melting snow and groundwater flow down the channel; this is what we think of as a “river.” But underground, far more water is moving slowly through a labyrinthine network of cobbles, gravel and sand that make up the entire valley bottom.

This deeply buried habitat is far more important and far more productive than thought. The matrix of gravel and sand cleans the water, filtering organic material and freeing up nitrogen and phosphorous embedded in the gravel.

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http://nyti.ms/2eziEPk


Trout in Ole Creek, a tributary of the Flathead River in northwestern Montana.

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