Landscape Ecology

, Volume 33, Issue 12, pp 2205–2220 | Cite as

Vegetative and geomorphic complexity at tributary junctions on the Colorado and Dolores Rivers: a blueprint for riparian restoration

  • Margaret S. WhiteEmail author
  • Brian G. Tavernia
  • Patrick B. Shafroth
  • Teresa B. Chapman
  • John S. Sanderson
Research Article



Habitat complexity in rivers is linked to dynamic fluvial conditions acting at various spatial scales. On regulated rivers in the western United States, tributaries are regions of high energy and disturbance, providing important resource inputs for riparian ecosystems.


This study investigated spatial patterns and extents of tributary influence on riparian habitat complexity in the near channel zone along regulated reaches of the Colorado (> 200 km) and Dolores Rivers (~ 300 km) in the western United States. Because tributary confluences are regions of increased dynamism, we hypothesized that: (1) geomorphic and land cover complexity would be greatest close to tributary junctions and decrease with distance from tributaries; and (2) patterns in complexity would vary across different sized spatial units.


Using a combination of remote sensing and spatial analysis, we classified fluvial features and land cover classes to investigate patterns longitudinally at 10-, 25-, and 100-m spatial units in the near channel zone of two regulated rivers.


Using change point analysis and randomization tests, we detected shifts in riparian habitat complexity closer to tributary junctions. Patterns varied across 10-, 25-, and 100-m spatial units in the near channel zone, with significance (p ≤ 0.05) recorded for 10- and 25-m spatial units.


Tributary junctions deliver critical resource inputs on regulated systems, providing for increased geomorphic and land cover diversity upstream and downstream of tributaries. We found that patterns of response were non-linear and discontinuous, varying across spatial units and potentially influenced by the degree of mainstem flow regulation.


Riparian Complexity Tributary Channel class Cover class Spatial unit Randomization test Restoration 



We thank C. Torgersen for his review and comments on an earlier version of this manuscript. We thank J. Rice and K. Johnson for their input and guidance on this research. Funding was provided by the United States Department of Interior Bureau of Reclamation Water Smart Grant Program through the Southern Rockies Landscape Conservation Cooperative. Any use of trade, firm, or product names is for descriptive purposes only and does not imply endorsement by the U.S. Government.

Supplementary material

10980_2018_734_MOESM1_ESM.docx (25 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (DOCX 25 kb)


  1. Abramovitz JN (1995) Freshwater failures: the crises on five continents. World Watch 8:27–35Google Scholar
  2. Alber A, Piégay H (2011) Spatial disaggregation and aggregation procedures for characterizing fluvial features at the network-scale: application to the Rhône basin (France). Geomorphology 125:343–360CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Arthington AH, Naiman RJ, McClain ME, Nilsson C (2010) Preserving the biodiversity and ecological services of rivers: new challenges and research opportunities. Freshw Biol 55:1–16CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Barnett TP, Pierce DW, Hidalgo HG, Bonfils C, Santer BD, Das T, Bala G, Wood AW, Nozawa T, Mirin AA, Cayan DR, Dettinger MD (2008) Human-induced changes in the hydrology of the western United States. Science 319:1080–1083CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Belmar O, Bruno D, Martínez-Capel F, Barquín J, Velasco J (2013) Effects of flow regime alteration on fluvial habitats and riparian quality in a semiarid Mediterranean basin. Ecol Ind 30:52–64CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Benda L, Poff NL, Miller D, Dunne T, Reeves G, Pess G, Pollock M (2004) The network dynamic hypothesis: how channel networks structure riverine habitats. Bioscience 54:413–427CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Bureau of Reclamation (BOR) (2012) Colorado River Basin Water Supply and Demand Study Report. Jerla, C, Prairie J, Adams P. U.S. Department of InteriorGoogle Scholar
  8. Burke M, Jorde K, Buffington JM (2009) Application of a hierarchical framework for assessing environmental impacts of dam operation: changes in streamflow, bed mobility and recruitment of riparian trees in a western North American river. J Environ Manage 90:224–236CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Congalton RG, Green K (2009) Assessing the accuracy of remotely sensed data: principles and practices. CRC Press, Boca RatonGoogle Scholar
  10. Dolores River Dialogue (DRD) (2005) Core science report for the Dolores River Dialogue, Fort Lewis College, Durango, CO.; Accessed December 6, 2016
  11. Fernandes IM, Henriques-Silva R, Penha J, Zuanon J, Peres-Neto PR (2013) Spatiotemporal dynamics in a seasonal metacommunity structure is predictable: the case of floodplain-fish communities. Ecography 37:1–12Google Scholar
  12. Fortin MJ, Dale MT (2005) Spatial analysis: a guide for ecologists. Cambridge University Press, CambridgeGoogle Scholar
  13. Fotheringham AS, Brunsdon C, Charlton M (2000) Quantitative geography: perspectives on spatial data analysis. Sage Publications, LondonGoogle Scholar
  14. Graf WL (2006) Downstream hydrologic and geomorphic effects of large dams on American Rivers. Geomorphology 79:336–360CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Grams PE, Schmidt JC (2002) Streamflow regulation and multi-level flood plain formation: channel narrowing on the aggrading Green River in the eastern Uinta Mountains, Colorado and Utah. Geomorphology 44:337–360CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Grams PE, Schmidt JC, Topping DJ (2007) The rate and pattern of bed incision and bank adjustment on the Colorado River in Glen Canyon downstream from Glen Canyon Dam, 1956–2000. Geol Soc Am Bull 119(5):556–575CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Huston MA (1994) Biological diversity. The coexistence of species on changing landscapes. Cambridge University Press, CambridgeGoogle Scholar
  18. Kiffney PM, Greene CM, Hall JE, Davies JR (2006) Tributary streams create spatial discontinuities in habitat, biological productivity, and diversity in mainstem rivers. Can J Fish Aquat Sci 63:2518–2530CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Knight JF, Lunetta RS (2003) An experimental assessment of minimum mapping unit size. IEEE Trans Geosci Remote Sens 41:2132–2134CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Kovalenko KE, Thomaz SM, Warfe DM (2012) Habitat complexity: approaches and future directions. Hydrobiologia 685:1–17CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Leibold MA, Holyoak M, Mouquet N, Amarasekare P, Chase JM, Hoopes MF, Holt RD, Shurin JB, Law R, Tilman D (2004) The metacommunity concept: a framework for multi-scale community ecology. Ecol Lett 7:601–613CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Ligon FK, Dietrich WE, Trush WJ (1995) Downstream ecological effects of dams. Bioscience 45(3):183–192CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Lloyd N, Quinn G, Thoms M (2003) Does flow modification cause geomorphological and ecological response in rivers? A literature review from an Australian perspective. Technical Report 1/2004, CRC for Freshwater EcologyGoogle Scholar
  24. Magilligan FJ, Nislow KH (2005) Changes in hydraulic regime by dams. Geomorphology 71:61–78CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Manly BF (1997) Randomization, Bootstrap and Monte Carlo methods in biology. Chapman & Hall, LondonGoogle Scholar
  26. Moore K, Jones K, Dambacher J, Stein C (2012) Methods for stream habitat surveys: Corvallis, OR, Aquatic inventories projects, conservation and recovery program: Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, 74 pGoogle Scholar
  27. Pettitt AN (1979) A non-parametric approach to the change-point problem. Appl Stat 28:126–135CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Poff NL, Olden JD, Merritt DM, Pepin DM (2007) Homogenization of regional river dynamics by dams and global biodiversity implications. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 104:5732–5737CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Pontius D (1997) Colorado River Basin Study: Report to the Western Water, Policy Review Advisory Commission.
  30. Poole GC (2002) Fluvial landscape ecology: addressing uniqueness within the river discontinuum. Freshw Biol 47:641–660CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Postel S, Richter B (2003) Rivers for life: managing water for people and nature. Island Press, Washington, DCGoogle Scholar
  32. Power ME, Dietrich WE (2002) Food webs in river networks. Ecol Res 17:451–471CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Quinn G, Keough M (2002) Experimental design and data analysis for biologists. Cambridge University Press, CambridgeCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Rasmussen CG, Shafroth PB (2016) Conservation planning for the Colorado River in Utah. Colorado Mesa University, Ruth Powell Hutchins Water Center, Scientific and Technical Report No 3. 93pGoogle Scholar
  35. Rice SP (2017) Tributary connectivity, confluence aggradation and network biodiversity. Geomorphology 277:6–16CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Rice SP, Ferguson RI, Hoey T (2006) Tributary control of physical heterogeneity and biological diversity at river confluences. Can J Fish Aquat Sci 63:2553–2566CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Rice SP, Kiffney P, Greene C, Pess GR (2008) The ecological importance of tributaries and confluences in River Confluences, Tributaries, and the Fluvial Network. John Wiley, ChichesterCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Richter BD, Postel S, Revenga C, Lehner B, Churchill A (2010) Lost in development’s shadow: the downstream human consequences of dams. Water Altern 3(2):14–42Google Scholar
  39. Seager R, Ting M, Held I, Kushnir Y, Lu J, Vecchi G, Huang HP, Harnik N, Leetmaa A, Lau NC, Li C, Velez J, Naik N (2007) Model projections of an imminent transition to a more arid climate in southwestern North America. Science 316:1181–1184CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Smith RS, Johnston EL, Clark GF (2014) The role of habitat complexity in community development is mediated by resource availability. PLoS ONE 9(7):e102920CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Tavernia BG, Rasmussen CG, White MS, Shafroth PB, Chapman TB, Sanderson JS (2018) Spatial datasets to support analysis of the influence of tributary junctions on patterns of fluvial features and riparian vegetation along the Colorado and Dolores Rivers (Utah and Colorado). US Geological Survey.
  42. Tharme RE (2003) A global perspective on environmental flow assessment: emerging trends in the development and application of environmental flow methodologies for rivers. River Res Appl 19:397–441CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Torgersen CE, Gresswell RE, Bateman DS, Burnett KM (2008) Spatial identification of tributary impacts in river networks. In: Rice S, Roy A, Rhoads B (eds) River confluences, tributaries and the fluvial network. Wiley, West Sussex, pp 159–181CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Ward JV, Stanford JA (1995) The serial discontinuity concept: extending the model to floodplain rivers. Regulated Rivers 10(2):159–168CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Wickham C, Rohde R, Muller RA, Wurtele J, Curry J, Groom D, Jacobsen R, Perlmutter S, Rosenfeld A, Mosher S (2013) Influence of urban heating on the global temperature land average using rural sites identified from MODIS classifications. Geoinform Geostatist 1:2Google Scholar
  46. Wiens JA (2002) Riverine landscapes: taking landscape ecology into the water. Freshw Biol 47:501–515CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Yarnell SM, Mount JF, Larsen EW (2006) The influence of relative sediment supply on riverine habitat heterogeneity. Geomorphology 80:310–324CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Nature B.V. 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.The Nature ConservancyBoulderUSA
  2. 2.Fort Collins Science CenterU. S. Geological SurveyFort CollinsUSA

Personalised recommendations