The evolution of dam induced river fragmentation in the United States

Rachel A. Spinti, Laura E. Condon, Jun Zhang

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations


It is established that dams decrease river connectivity; however, previous global scale studies of river fragmentation focused on a small subset of the largest dams. In the United States, mid-sized dams, which are too small for global databases, account for 96% of major anthropogenic structures and 48% of reservoir storage. We conduct a national evaluation of the evolution of anthropogenic river bifurcation over time that includes more than 50,000 nationally inventoried dams. Mid-sized dams account for 73% of anthropogenically created stream fragments nationally. They also contribute disproportionately to short fragments (less than 10 km), which is particularly troubling for aquatic habitats. Here we show that dam construction has essentially reversed natural fragmentation patterns in the United States. Prior to human development, smaller river fragments and less connected networks occurred in arid basins while today we show that humid basins are the most fragmented due to human structures.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number3820
JournalNature communications
Issue number1
StatePublished - Dec 2023

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Chemistry
  • General Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology
  • General Physics and Astronomy


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