, Volume 45, Issue 4, pp 669-681
Date: 10 Feb 2010

Recent Changes in the Riparian Forest of a Large Regulated Mediterranean River: Implications for Management

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Abstract

The structure of the floodplain forests of the Middle Ebro River (NE Spain) was examined at patch and landscape scales along a three-step chronosequence defined according to the extent of flow regulation-induced hydrogeomorphic changes, with the ultimate purpose of producing baseline information to guide through management and restoration plans. At patch scale, a total of 6,891 stems within 39 plots were registered for species, diameter and health status. The stem density, size class distribution, canopy dieback and mortality were further compared by means of non-parametric tests. At landscape scale, the temporal evolution of the area occupied by forest stands of different ages in the floodplain along the chronosequence was evaluated using four sets of aerial photographs dated in 1927, 1957, 1981 and 2003. The within-patch structure of pioneer forests (<25–30 years old) was characterized by dense and healthy populations of pioneer species (Populus nigra, Salix alba and Tamarix spp.), but the area occupied by these forest types has progressively decreased (up to 37%) since the intensification of river regulation (ca. 1957). In contrast, non-pioneer forests (>25–30 years old) were characterized by declining and sparse P. nigraS. albaTamarix spp. stands, where late-seral species such as Ulmus minor and Fraxinus angustifolia were frequent, but only as small-size stems. At landscape scale, these type of senescent forests have doubled their surface after river regulation was intensified. Populus alba only appeared in the oldest plots recorded (colonized before 1957), suggesting sexual regeneration failure during the last five decades, but usually as healthy and dense stands. Based on these findings, measures principally aimed at recovering some hydrogeomorphic dynamism are recommended to guarantee the self-sustainability of the floodplain forest ecosystem.