Aquatic Sciences

, Volume 77, Issue 4, pp 563–582 | Cite as

Riparian vegetation as indicator of channel adjustments and environmental conditions: the case of the Panaro River (Northern Italy)

Research Article


Disturbances affecting flow and sediment transport regimes (e.g. dams, diversions, gravel mining, weirs, bank reinforcements, climate changes) can promote riverbed degradation and channel narrowing, and thus influence vegetation dynamics and composition. This study investigates the relationships and feedbacks between channel adjustments and riparian vegetation dynamics by combining an analysis of morphological channel changes with a wider phytosociology analysis of existing vegetation within the river corridor. These relationships were illustrated by using the case study of the Panaro River (located in the Northern Apennines, Italy), being a representative case of a deeply incised and narrowed river. More specifically we analyzed: (1) the relations between landforms and distributional patterns of vegetation types and characteristic plant species (index species): these provided information about the hydrogeomorphic condition of fluvial landforms and about channel adjustments; (2) the distance of riparian vegetation conditions from expected conditions as a consequence of human impact, based on the fact that each species and vegetation type has a given tolerance for specific disturbance regimes or stresses. Although some expected relations between landforms and vegetation types were found, we recorded significant deviations from the typical correlation pattern existing between morphology and vegetation, and this could be used to infer the intensity and the typology of human disturbances. In particular, the index species can indicate present ecological conditions and on past channel evolution. With this knowledge it might be possible to develop botanical recovery models in the future and, even more importantly, enable the recognition of the differences between temporal and spatial diversity.


Riparian vegetation Channel adjustments Index species Phytosociological analysis Human impact 



The authors thank Professors D. Ubaldi and A. Zanotti for helping in data collection and plant identification. Authors also thank J. Mant for her comments and linguistic improvement, and two anonymous reviewers for their precious comments and remarks. Authors finally thank J. Derrick for the linguistic improvement.


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© Springer Basel 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Biological, Geological and Environmental SciencesUniversity of BolognaBolognaItaly
  2. 2.Department of Earth ScienceUniversity of FlorenceFlorenceItaly
  3. 3.BolognaItaly

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