Hydrologic connectivity between the channel and floodplain is thought to be a dominant factor determining floodplain processes and characteristics of floodplain forests. We explored the role of hydrologic connectivity in explaining floodplain forest community composition along streams in northern Missouri, USA. Hydrologic analyses at 20 streamgages (207–5827 km2 area) document that magnitudes of 2-year return floods increase systematically with increasing drainage area whereas the average annual number and durations of floodplain-connecting events decrease. Flow durations above the active-channel shelf vary little with increasing drainage area, indicating that the active-channel shelf is in quasi-equilibrium with prevailing conditions. The downstream decrease in connectivity is associated with downstream increase in channel incision. These relations at streamflow gaging stations are consistent with regional channel disturbance patterns: channel incision increases downstream, whereas upstream reaches have either not incised or adjusted to incision by forming new equilibrium floodplains. These results provide a framework to explain landscape-scale variations in composition of floodplain forest communities in northern Missouri. Faust () had tentatively explained increases of flood-dependent tree species, and decreases of species diversity, with a downstream increase in flood magnitude and duration. Because frequency and duration of floodplain-connecting events do not increase downstream, we hypothesize instead that increases in relative abundance of flood-dependent trees at larger drainage area result from increasing size of disturbance patches. Bank-overtopping floods at larger drainage area create large, open, depositional landforms that promoted the regeneration of shade-intolerant species. Higher tree species diversity in floodplains with small drainage areas is associated with non-incised floodplains that are frequently connected to their channels and therefore subject to greater effective hydrologic variability compared with downstream floodplains. Understanding the landscape-scale geomorphic and hydrologic controls on floodplain connectivity provides a basis for more effective management and restoration of floodplain forest communities.
Additional publication details
Hydrologic connectivity of floodplains, northern Missouri: implications for management and restoration of floodplain forest communities in disturbed landscapes