Original Paper

Biological Invasions

, Volume 14, Issue 5, pp 1061-1076

First online:

The influence of floods and precipitation on Tamarix establishment in Grand Canyon, Arizona: consequences for flow regime restoration

  • Susan G. MortensonAffiliated withEcology, Evolution, and Conservation Biology Program, Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Science, University of Nevada Email author 
  • , Peter J. WeisbergAffiliated withEcology, Evolution, and Conservation Biology Program, Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Science, University of Nevada
  • , Lawrence E. StevensAffiliated withBiology Department, Museum of Northern Arizona

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Decoupling of climate and hydrology combined with introduction of non-native species creates novel abiotic and biotic conditions along highly regulated rivers. Tamarix, a non-native shrub, dominates riparian assemblages along many waterways in the American Southwest, including the Colorado River through Grand Canyon. We conducted a tree-ring study to determine the relative influences of climate and hydrology on Tamarix establishment in Grand Canyon. Riparian vegetation was sparse and annually scoured by large floods until completion of Glen Canyon Dam, which allowed pioneer species, including Tamarix, to expand. Post-dam floods in the mid-1980s were associated with high Tamarix mortality but also initiated a large establishment event. Subsequent establishment has been low but continuous with some exceptions. From 1984 to 2006 establishment increased during years of high, late-summer flows followed by years of low precipitation. This combination provided moist surfaces for Tamarix establishment and may have caused reduced erosion of seedlings or reduced competition from native plants. Attempts to mimic pre-dam floods for ecosystem restoration through planned flood releases also have affected Tamarix establishment. Early (March 1996) and late (November 2004) restoration floods limited establishment, but a small restoration flood in May 2000 followed by steady summer flows permitted widespread establishment. Flood restoration is not expected to prevent Tamarix spread in this system because historic flood timing in May–July coincides with seed release. To decrease future Tamarix establishment, river managers should avoid floods during peak Tamarix seed release, which encompasses the historic spring and early summer flooding period. Tamarix dominance may be reduced by early spring floods that initiate asexual reproduction of clonal shrubs (e.g., Salix exigua, Pluchea sericea).


Tamarisk Colorado River River regulation Restoration floods Riparian Dendroecology