Publication Details

Quantifying flooding regime in floodplain forests to guide river restoration

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Marks, Christian O.; Nislow, Keith H.; Magilligan, Francis J.

Year Published

2014

Publication

Elementa Science of the Anthropocene. 2: 000031.

Abstract

Determining the flooding regime needed to support distinctive floodplain forests is essential for effective river conservation under the ubiquitous human alteration of river flows characteristic of the Anthropocene Era. At over 100 sites throughout the Connecticut River basin, the largest river system in New England, we characterized species composition, valley and channel morphology, and hydrologic regime to define conditions promoting distinct floodplain forest assemblages. Species assemblages were dominated by floodplain-associated trees on surfaces experiencing flood durations between 4.5 and 91 days/year, which were generally well below the stage of the two-year recurrence interval flood, a widely-used benchmark for floodplain restoration. These tree species rarely occurred on surfaces that flooded less than 1 day/year. By contrast abundance of most woody invasive species decreased with flooding. Such flood-prone surfaces were jointly determined by characteristics of the hydrograph (high discharges of long duration) and topography (low gradient and reduced valley constraint), resulting in increased availability of floodplain habitat with increasing watershed area and/or decreasing stream gradient. Downstream mainstem reaches provided the most floodplain habitat, largely associated with low-energy features such as back swamps and point bars, and were dominated by silver maple (Acer saccharinum). However, we were able to identify a number of suitable sites in the upper part of the basin and in large tributaries, often associated with in-channel islands and bars and frequently dominated by sycamore (Platanus occidentalis) and flood disturbance-dependent species. Our results imply that restoring flows by modifying dam operations to benefit floodplain forests on existing surfaces need not conflict with flood protection in some regional settings. These results underscore the need to understand how flow, geomorphology, and species traits interact to produce characteristic patterns of floodplain vegetation, and that these interactions should form the basis of effective river restoration and conservation.

Citation

Marks, Christian O.; Nislow, Keith H.; Magilligan, Francis J. 2014. Quantifying flooding regime in floodplain forests to guide river restoration. Elementa Science of the Anthropocene. 2: 000031. https://doi.org/10.12952/journal.elementa.000031.

Last updated on: September 22, 2014