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The stream evolution triangle: Integrating geology, hydrology, and biology

Castro, Janine M.; Thorne, Colin R.

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Janine M. Castro

Colin R. Thorne


The foundations of river restoration science rest comfortably in the fields of geology, hydrology, and engineering, and yet, the impetus for many, if not most, stream restoration projects is biological recovery. Although Lane's stream balance equation from the mid‐1950s captured the dynamic equilibrium between the amount of stream flow, the slope of the channel, and the amount and calibre of sediment, it completely ignored biology. Similarly, most of the stream classification systems used in river restoration design today do not explicitly include biology as a primary driver of stream form and process. To address this omission, we cast biology as an equal partner with geology and hydrology, forming a triumvirate that governs stream morphology and evolution. To represent this, we have created the stream evolution triangle, a conceptual model that explicitly accounts for the influences of geology, hydrology, and biology. Recognition of biology as a driver leads to improved understanding of reachscale morphology and the dynamic response mechanisms responsible for stream evolution and adjustment following natural or anthropogenic disturbance, including stream restoration. Our aim in creating the stream evolution triangle is not to exclude or supersede existing stream classifications and evolutionary models but to provide a broader “thinking space” within which they can be framed and reconsidered, thus facilitating thought outside of the alluvial box.


Castro, J. M., & Thorne, C. R. (2019). The stream evolution triangle: Integrating geology, hydrology, and biology. River Research and Applications, 35(4), 315-326.

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date Feb 28, 2019
Online Publication Date Mar 26, 2019
Publication Date 2019-05
Deposit Date Mar 15, 2019
Publicly Available Date Nov 3, 2019
Journal River Research and Applications
Print ISSN 1535-1459
Electronic ISSN 1535-1467
Publisher Wiley
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 35
Issue 4
Pages 315-326
Keywords General Environmental Science; Water Science and Technology; Environmental Chemistry
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