, Volume 18, Issue 2, pp 203-221

Old distribution procedure of both water and matter fluxes in floodplains of western Europe: Impact on present vegetation

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In France and the United States it has been shown that strong linkages exist between vegetation and alluvial landforms within homogeneous river stretches characterized by geomorphological processes, flood duration, flood magnitude, flood frequency, and sediment size. Furthermore, perturbations induced by man (such as embankments and damming) have been shown to have an effect on both succession and plant distribution patterns. Yet, in numerous cases it is not possible to find either the communities or the plants whose presence might be predicted by reference to the river section characteristics (such as straight, braided, anastomosed, or meandering channels) or by reference to perturbation effects well known in piedmont valleys (such as variations of the water-table depth, variations of magnitude, and frequency and duration of floods).

Unexpected species, new communities, and even new successional sequences are often observed. The presence of new alluvial forms explains these differences. An “artificial” substratum generated by an old human perturbation (limited in the time) has been established in the past; consequently, the natural distribution patterns of water and matter flows have been disturbed. Archive research has enabled a classification of abandoned systems that were commonly used during the 16th, 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries on European floodplains. Several case studies were chosen in order to illustrate and explain the importance of stream corridor history. The example of the Isère River valley, downstream from Albertville, is chosen to highlight the heterogeneity of the vegetation mosaïc pattern outside the dikes. The historical reconstruction explains the role of the additional disturbances that cause deviation from the system evolution patterns.