The long-term legacy of geomorphic and riparian vegetation feedbacks on the dammed Bill Williams River, Arizona, USA

Ecohydrology
By: , and 

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Abstract

On alluvial rivers, fluvial landforms and riparian vegetation communities codevelop as a result of feedbacks between plants and abiotic processes. The influence of vegetation on river channel and floodplain geomorphology can be particularly strong on dammed rivers with altered hydrology and reduced flood disturbance. We used a 56-year series of aerial photos on the dammed Bill Williams River (Arizona, USA) to investigate how (a) different woody riparian vegetation types influence river channel planform and (b) how different fluvial landforms drive the composition of riparian plant communities over time. We mapped vegetation types and geomorphic surfaces and quantified how relations between fluvial and biotic processes covaried over time using linear mixed models. In the decades after the dam was built, woody plant cover within the river's bottomland nearly doubled, narrowing the active channel by 60% and transforming its planform from wide and braided to a single thread and more sinuous channel. Compared with native cottonwood–willow vegetation, nonnative tamarisk locally induced a twofold greater reduction in channel braiding. Vegetation expanded at different rates depending on the type of landform, with tamarisk cover on former high-flow channels increasing 17% faster than cottonwood–willow. Former low-flow channels with frequent inundation supported a greater increase in cottonwood–willow relative to tamarisk. These findings give insight into how feedbacks between abiotic and biotic processes in river channels accelerate and fortify changes triggered by dam construction, creating river systems increasingly distinct from predam ecological communities and landforms, and progressively more resistant to restoration of predam forms and processes.


Additional publication details

Publication type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Title The long-term legacy of geomorphic and riparian vegetation feedbacks on the dammed Bill Williams River, Arizona, USA
Series title Ecohydrology
DOI 10.1002/eco.1839
Volume 10
Issue 4
Year Published 2017
Language English
Publisher Wiley
Contributing office(s) Fort Collins Science Center
Description e1839