Transverse and longitudinal variation in woody riparian vegetation along a montane river

Western North American Naturalist
By: , and 



This study explores how the relationship between flow and riparian vegetation varies along a montane river. We mapped occurrence of woody riparian plant communities along 58 km of the San Miguel River in southwestern Colorado. We determined the recurrence interval of inundation for each plant community by combining step-backwater hydraulic modeling at 4 representative reaches with Log-Pearson analysis of 4 stream gaging stations. Finally, we mapped bottomland surficial geology and used a Geographic Information System to overlay the coverages of geology and vegetation. Plant communities were distinctly arrayed along the hydrologic gradient. The Salix exigua Nuttall (sand-bar willow) community occurred mostly on surfaces with a recurrence interval of inundation shorter than 2.2 years; the Betula occidentalis Hooker (river birch) community peaked on sites with recurrence intervals of inundation between 2.2 and 4.6 years. The hydrologic position occupied by communities dominated by Populus angustifolia James (narrowleaf cottonwood) was strongly related to age of trees and species composition of understory shrubs. The fraction of riparian vegetation on surfaces historically inundated by the river decreased in the upstream direction from almost 100% near Uravan to <50% along the South Fork of the San Miguel River. In upstream reaches much of the physical disturbance necessary to maintain riparian vegetation is provided by valley-side processes including debris flows, floods from minor tributaries, landslides, and beaver activity. Where valley-side processes are important, prediction of riparian vegetation change based on alterations of river flow will be incomplete.

Publication type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Title Transverse and longitudinal variation in woody riparian vegetation along a montane river
Series title Western North American Naturalist
DOI 10.3398/1527-0904(2006)66[78:TALVIW]2.0.CO;2
Volume 66
Issue 1
Year Published 2006
Language English
Publisher Brigham Young University
Contributing office(s) Fort Collins Science Center
Description p. 78-91
First page 78
Last page 91
Google Analytic Metrics Metrics page
Additional publication details