Nature’s Biggest Comebacks


Our scientists have chosen the top 10 comeback stories in nature. These are the places, ecosystems and species that have been brought back from the brink of disaster. See what made the cut from the last century — and what we hope will be on our list in the next.

Next Comebacks: Floodplains

2011 could be called the “year of the flood.” From Australia to Pakistan and Missouri to Vermont, floods topped the news headlines.

This rise in catastrophic flooding — coupled with the possibility that climate change will lead to larger and more frequent floods — has decision-makers looking for ways to reduce risk. One of the most effective ways to protect people from floods is to reconnect and restore floodplains.

Floodplains are low-lying areas next to rivers. During periods of heavy rain or snowmelt, rivers rise and spread across their floodplains, which then take in the excess water. But around the United States, the majority of floodplain land has been lost to farming and community development.

Reconnecting floodplains can be an effective and low-cost way to reduce flooding. By allowing floodwaters to spread out onto floodplains, we can lower flood heights and risk to nearby towns and cities.

Floodplains also help support productive fisheries, recharge groundwater, take up nutrients that can cause harmful algae blooms or “dead zones” and provide important habitat for birds and other wildlife. By contrast, dams and levees often take away these other benefits.

The ability of floodplains to reduce flood damage was demonstrated during this year’s Mississippi River flooding, when floodwaters were allowed to spread out across the river’s historic floodplain.  Read More.

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