School of BioSciences - Research Publications

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    Environmental Flows Can Reduce the Encroachment of Terrestrial Vegetation into River Channels: A Systematic Literature Review
    Miller, KA ; Webb, JA ; de Little, SC ; Stewardson, MJ (SPRINGER, 2013-11-01)
    Encroachment of riparian vegetation into regulated river channels exerts control over fluvial processes, channel morphology, and aquatic ecology. Reducing encroachment of terrestrial vegetation is an oft-cited objective of environmental flow recommendations, but there has been no systematic assessment of the evidence for and against the widely-accepted cause-and-effect mechanisms involved. We systematically reviewed the literature to test whether environmental flows can reduce the encroachment of terrestrial vegetation into river channels. We quantified the level of support for five explicit cause-effect hypotheses drawn from a conceptual model of the effects of flow on vegetation. We found that greater inundation, variously expressed as changes in the area, depth, duration, frequency, seasonality, and volume of surface water, generally reduces riparian vegetation abundance in channels, but most studies did not investigate the specific mechanisms causing these changes. Those that did show that increased inundation results in increased mortality, but also increased germination. The evidence was insufficient to determine whether increased inundation decreases reproduction. Our results contribute to hydro-ecological understanding by using the published literature to test for general cause-effect relationships between flow regime and terrestrial vegetation encroachment. Reviews of this nature provide robust support for flow management, and are more defensible than expert judgement-based approaches. Overall, we predict that restoration of more natural flow regimes will reduce encroachment of terrestrial vegetation into regulated river channels, partly through increased mortality. Conversely, infrequent deliveries of environmental flows may actually increase germination and subsequent encroachment.