Synchrony of Seed Dispersal, Hydrology and Local Climate in a Semi-arid River Reach in California

Abstract

The temporal availability of propagules is a critical factor in sustaining pioneer riparian tree populations along snowmelt-driven rivers because seedling establishment is strongly linked to seasonal hydrology. River regulation in semi-arid regions threatens to decouple seed development and dispersal from the discharge regime to which they evolved. Using the lower Tuolumne River as a model system, we quantified and modeled propagule availability for Populus fremontii (POFR), Salix gooddingii (SAGO), and Salix exigua (SAEX), the tree and shrub species that dominate near-channel riparian stands in the San Joaquin Basin, CA. A degree-day model was fit to field data of seasonal seed density and local temperature from three sites in 2002–2004 to predict the onset of the peak dispersal period. To evaluate historical synchrony of seed dispersal and seasonal river hydrology, we compared peak spring runoff timing to modeled peak seed release periods for the last 75 years. The peak seed release period began on May 15 for POFR (range April 23–June 10), May 30 for SAGO (range May 19–June 11) and May 31 for SAEX (range May 8–June 30). Degree-day models for the onset of seed release reduced prediction error by 40–67% over day-of-year means; the models predicted best the interannual, versus site-to-site, variation in timing. The historical analysis suggests that POFR seed release coincided with peak runoff in almost all years, whereas SAGO and SAEX dispersal occurred during the spring flood recession. The degree-day modeling approach reduce uncertainty in dispersal timing and shows potential for guiding flow releases on regulated rivers to increase riparian tree recruitment at the lowest water cost.

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Acknowledgements

This research was funded by a CALFED Ecosystem Restoration Program grant (Award #99-B152) to Stillwater Sciences, a National Science Foundation Doctoral Dissertation Improvement Grant (Award # DEB-0309135) and a CALFED Science Program pre-doctoral fellowship to J.C. Stella. In-kind support was provided by the Center for Forestry at the University of California. We thank M. Reil, Z. Diggory, D. Fuchs, K. Poole, N. Solomonoff, A. Tokunaga, and M. Hayden for their valiant field and lab work, and the Turlock Irrigation District for providing Tuolumne River unimpaired flow data. The following landowners and agencies graciously granted access to their properties: R. Ott, T. Venn, Lakewood Memorial Park, the City of Firebaugh, and the San Luis National Wildlife Refuge. We thank J.H. Bair for stimulating discussions regarding degree-day model applications to seed release, P.F. Baker for suggestions regarding the quantitative analyses, and A. Das and two anonymous reviewers for helpful comments on manuscript drafts.

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Stella, J.C., Battles, J.J., Orr, B.K. et al. Synchrony of Seed Dispersal, Hydrology and Local Climate in a Semi-arid River Reach in California. Ecosystems 9, 1200–1214 (2006). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10021-005-0138-y

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Keywords

  • phenology
  • seed dispersal
  • degree-day model
  • seed longevity
  • germination
  • Populus
  • Salix
  • seedling recruitment
  • riparian habitat restoration
  • flow regulation
  • California central-valley