Observed and modeled directional change in riparian forest composition at a cutbank edge

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Peer Reviewed


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Landscape Ecology

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Lateral migrations of river meanders create transient, spatially transgressive edges where the advancing cutbank edge encroaches upon interior floodplain forest communities. This spatial movement of edge toward the forest interior should initiate directional changes in species composition within a forest plot as it is affected by a changing microclimate and hydrological regime. We found that cutbank edge and forest interior sites in an Iowa floodplain contained markedly different plant assemblages. Species commonly associated with later stages of succession dominated interior sites while cutbank edge sites favored secondary, successional species. Assuming that the cutbank edge sites once contained vegetation similar to that surveyed in the floodplain interior, the observed changes in community structure accompanying channel migration are suggestive of retrograde succession, or retrogression. To link cutbank erosional processes with retrogressional processes, we modified a computer simulation model already in use for floodplain environments. We incorporated the changing edge effects and compared model projections with the data collected from the field sites using detrended correspondence analysis. Without changes, the simulation projected a site compositionally similar to the sampled interior forest. When the changes were initiated, the simulated site progressively took on compositional characteristics similar to the riparian edge sites. Because we included only those forcing functions that would be initiated by cutbank erosion, the model supports the hypothesis that the spatially progressive edge effect results in a directional change in forest community composition analogous to retrogression. Our results demonstrate an interesting linkage between successional and fluvial-geomorphic processes and indicate that site dynamics may be controlled differently in landscapes where sites are progressively created and destroyed than where recurrent disturbances affect the same site.

Published Article/Book Citation

Landscape Ecology, 8:3 (1993) pp.185-199.

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