Dispersal and colonisation of plants in lowland streams: success rates and bottlenecks
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- Riis, T. Hydrobiologia (2008) 596: 341. doi:10.1007/s10750-007-9107-0
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Plant dispersal and colonisation, including rates of dispersal, retention, colonisation and survival of dispersed propagules (shoots and seeds), were studied in a 300-m stream reach in a macrophyte-rich lowland stream during one growing season. Relationships between colonisation processes and simple flow parameters were tested. Each fortnight during a growing season, the number of dispersed plant propagules and the number of new and lost plant colonisations since the last sampling day were recorded. The retention of dispersing shoots was tested on two occasions during the growing season by releasing plant shoots and subsequently re-collecting the retained shoots in the study reach. The main bottleneck for plant colonisation in macrophyte-rich lowland streams is the primary colonisation (development of attached roots in the sediment from vegetative propagules or seedlings) of retained shoots and seeds, due in part to low retention success (1% of the dispersed shoots per 100-m reach) and to unsuccessful colonisation of retained shoots (3.4% of retained shoots colonised). The number of drifting shoots and seeds per day during the growing season were 650–6,950 and 2,970–62,780, respectively, and caused no constraint to colonisation. The survival rate of primary colonists was high with 80% surviving during the first growing season and about 50% surviving the first winter. There was no relationship between number of drifting shoots and flow, but the number of drifting seeds increased with flow. The number of colonisations between two consecutive sampling days correlated to the extent of low flow in the period. The loss rate of colonisations correlated to high flow events, but was low overall. My study strongly indicates that the number of propagules is not a constraint to colonisation in macrophyte-rich lowland streams. Rather, I conclude that primary colonisation is the main constraint to regaining vegetation in lowland streams in general and in vegetation-free rehabilitated streams in particular. Therefore, if plant colonisation is a target for stream rehabilitation, it is important to enhance retention and colonisation of propagules by creating areas of low flow and by providing physical obstacles to work as retention agents in the stream.