The health of native riparian vegetation and its relation to hydrologic conditions were studied along the Mojave River mainly during the growing seasons of 1997 and 1998. The study concentrated on cottonwood?willow woodlands (predominantly Populus fremontii and Salix gooddingii) and mesquite bosques (predominantly Prosopis glandulosa). Tree-growth characteristics were measured at 16 cottonwood?willow woodland sites and at 3 mesquite bosque sites. Density of live and dead trees, tree diameter and height, canopy density, live-crown volume, leaf-water potential, leaf-area index, mortality, and reproduction were measured or noted at each site. The sites included healthy and reproducing woodlands and bosques, stressed woodlands and bosques with no reproduction, and woodlands and bosques with high mortality.
Tree roots were studied at seven sites to determine the vertical distribution of the root system and their relation to the water table at healthy, stressed, and high-mortality cottonwood?willow woodlands. In the six trenches that were dug for this study in May 1997, no cottonwood roots were observed that reached the water table. The root systems of healthy trees typically ended 1 to 2 feet above the water table. At sites with high mortality, the main root mass was commonly 7 to 8 feet above the water table.
Water-table depth was monitored at each of the study sites. In addition, volumetric soil moisture and soil-water potential were monitored at varying depths at three cottonwood?willow woodland study sites and at two mesquite bosque sites. Ground, soil, river, lake, and plant (xylem sap) water were analyzed for concentrations of stable hydrogen and oxygen isotopes to determine the source of water used by the trees.
On the basis of the root-distribution, soil- and leaf-water potential, and isotope data, it was concluded that cottonwood, willow, and mesquite trees mainly rely on ground water for their perennial sustained supply of water. The trees mainly utilize ground water that has moved upward from the water table into the capillary fringe and into unsaturated soil nearer to land surface. Most precipitation (average is 4 to 6 inches per year) is lost by evaporation and by transpiration of shallow-rooted xeric plants, and very little reaches the root zone of trees along the Mojave River.
Water-table depth had no strong correlation to many individual tree-growth characteristics, such as density, diameter, height, and live-crown volume. However, leaf-area index (corrected for stem area) of both healthy and stressed cottonwood?willow woodlands had a highly significant statistical relation to water-table depth, and a curvilinear regression model was defined. As in cottonwood?willow woodlands, leaf-area index of mesquite bosques also decreased with increased water-table depth. However, because of the small number of sites, no significant statistical relation could be defined for mesquite bosques. Because it can be accurately measured repeatedly at the same locations, leaf-area index (corrected for stem area) is recommended as the primary growth characteristic that should be monitored. Future vegetation changes along the Mojave River can be quantified using the sites established for this study.
Mortality was as high as 39 percent in healthy cottonwood?willow woodlands, but mortality of 50 to 100 percent was common where water-table depth was greater than about 7 feet or in areas where permanent water-table declines greater than about 5 feet had occurred. At a healthy mesquite bosque where the water-table depth ranged from about 8 to 11 feet, mortality was about 20 percent. Where the water table had been lowered an additional 10 to 25 feet by pumping, mortality of the mesquite was extremely high (80 to 99 percent).
On the basis of observations of plant reproduction, it was concluded that established cottonwood?willow woodlands probably will reproduce, mainly by root sprouting of mature trees, if the water-t
Additional publication details
USGS Numbered Series
Health of native riparian vegetation and its relation to hydrologic conditions along the Mojave River, southern California
Water-Resources Investigations Report
U.S. Dept. of the Interior, U.S. Geological Survey ;
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