Restoration of riparian forest productivity lost as a consequence of flow regulation is a common management goal in dryland riverine ecosystems. In the northern hemisphere, dryland river floodplain trees often include one or another species of Populus, which are fast-growing, nutrient-demanding trees. Because the trees are phreatophytic in drylands, and have water needs met in whole or in part by a shallow water table, their productivity may be limited by nitrogen (N) availability, which commonly limits primary productivity in mesic environments. We added 20 g N m−2 in a 2-m radius around the base of mature Populus fremontii along each of a regulated and free-flowing river in semiarid northwest Colorado, USA (total n = 42) in order to test whether growth is constrained by low soil N. Twelve years after fertilization, we collected increment cores from these and matched unfertilized trees and compared radial growth ratios (growth in the 3-year post-fertilization period/growth in the 3-year pre-fertilization period) in paired t tests. We expected a higher mean ratio in the fertilized trees. No effect from fertilization was detected, nor was a trend evident on either river. An alternative test using analysis of covariance (ANCOVA) produced a similar result. Our results underscore the need for additional assessment of which and to what extent factors other than water control dryland riverine productivity. Positive confirmation of adequate soil nutrients at these and other dryland riparian sites would bolster the argument that flow management is necessary and sufficient to maximize productivity and enhance resilience in affected desert riverine forests.
Dendroclimatic potential of Plains Cottonwood (Populus deltoides Subsp. Monilifera) from the Northern Great Plains, USA
Edmondson, J., J. Friedman, D. Meko, R. Touchan, J. Scott, and A. Edmondson
A new 368-year tree-ring chronology (A.D. 1643–2010) has been developed in western North Dakota using plains cottonwood (Populus deltoids subsp. monilifera) growing on the relatively undisturbed floodplain of the Little Missouri River in the North Unit of Theodore Roosevelt National Park. We document many slow-growing living trees between 150–370 years old that contradict the common understanding that cottonwoods grow fast and die young. In this northern location, cottonwood produces distinct annual rings with dramatic interannual variability that strongly crossdate. The detrended tree-ring chronology is significantly positively correlated with local growing season precipitation and soil moisture conditions (r = 0.69). This time series shows periods of prolonged low radial tree growth during the known droughts of the instrumental record (e.g. 1931–1939 and 1980–1981) and also during prehistory (e.g. 1816–1823 and 1856–1865) when other paleoclimate studies have documented droughts in this region. Tree rings of cottonwood will be a useful tool to help reconstruct climate, streamflow, and the floodplain history of the Little Missouri River and other northern river systems.
Stratigraphic, sedimentologic, and dendrogeomorphic analyses of rapid floodplain formation along the Rio Grande in Big Bend National Park, TX
Dean, D.J., M.L. Scott, P.B. Shafroth, and J.C. Schmidt
The channel of the lower Rio Grande in the Big Bend region rapidly narrows during years of low mean and peak flow. We conducted stratigraphic, sedimentologic, and dendrogeomorphic analyses within two long floodplain trenches to precisely reconstruct the timing and processes of recent floodplain formation. We show that the channel of the Rio Grande narrowed through the oblique and vertical accretion of inset floodplains following channel-widening floods in 1978 and 1990–1991. Vertical accretion occurred at high rates, ranging from 16 to 35 cm/yr. Dendrogeomorphic analyses show that the onset of channel narrowing occurred during low-flow years when channel bars obliquely and vertically accreted fine sediment. This initial stage of accretion occurred by both bedload and suspended-load deposition within the active channel...
Soil nitrogen accretion along a floodplain terrace chronosequence in northwest Alaska: Influence of the nitrogen-fixing shrub Shepherdia Canadensis
Rhoades, C., B. Binkley, H. Oskarsson, and R. Stottlemyer
We examined how beaver dams affect key ecosystem processes, including pattern and process of sediment deposition, the composition and spatial pattern of vegetation, and nutrient loading and processing. We provide new evidence for the formation of heterogeneous beaver meadows on riverine system floodplains and terraces where dynamic flows are capable of breaching in-channel beaver dams. Our data show a 1.7-m high beaver dam triggered overbank flooding that drowned vegetation in areas deeply flooded, deposited nutrient-rich sediment in a spatially heterogeneous pattern on the floodplain and terrace, and scoured soils in other areas. The site quickly de-watered following the dam breach by high stream flows, protecting the deposited sediment from future re-mobilization by overbank floods. Bare sediment either exposed by scouring or deposited by the beaver flood was quickly colonized by a spatially heterogeneous plant community, forming a beaver meadow...
Dams, floodplain land use, and riparian forest conservation in the semiarid Upper Colorado River Basin, USA