, Volume 20, Issue 1, pp 104–129 | Cite as

Riparian Soil Development Linked to Forest Succession Above and Below Dams Along the Elwha River, Washington, USA

  • Laura G. PerryEmail author
  • Patrick B. Shafroth
  • Steven S. Perakis


Riparian forest soils can be highly dynamic, due to frequent fluvial disturbance, erosion, and sediment deposition, but effects of dams on riparian soils are poorly understood. We examined soils along toposequences within three river segments located upstream, between, and downstream of two dams on the Elwha River to evaluate relationships between riparian soil development and forest age, succession, and channel proximity, explore dam effects on riparian soils, and provide a baseline for the largest dam removal in history. We found that older, later-successional forests and geomorphic surfaces contained soils with finer texture and greater depth to cobble, supporting greater forest floor mass, mineral soil nutrient levels, and cation exchange. Forest stand age was a better predictor than channel proximity for many soil characteristics, though elevation and distance from the channel were often also important, highlighting how complex interactions between fluvial disturbance, sediment deposition, and biotic retention regulate soil development in this ecosystem. Soils between the dams, and to a lesser extent below the lower dam, had finer textures and higher mineral soil carbon, nitrogen, and cation exchange than above the dams. These results suggested that decreased fluvial disturbance below the dams, due to reduced sediment supply and channel stabilization, accelerated soil development. In addition, reduced sediment supply below the dams may have decreased soil phosphorus. Soil δ 15N suggested that salmon exclusion by the dams had no discernable effect on nitrogen inputs to upstream soils. Recent dam removal may alter riparian soils further, with ongoing implications for riparian ecosystems.


dams fluvial disturbance forest stand age geomorphic surfaces nitrogen cycling nutrient concentrations nutrient pools riparian forest communities soil texture succession 



Financial support for this work was provided through the U.S. Geological Survey’s Park Oriented Biological Support Program. We thank Olympic National Park for permission to sample within the park. Kurt Jenkins, USGS FRESC, provided the stable isotope samples. Hillary Eichler, Jennifer Lee, Shea McDonald, and Brittany Wilcox with the Peninsula College NSF REU program, and Steven Acker, Sarah Beldin, Cynthia Pritekel, and Jean Snyder assisted with sample collection. Christina Catricala assisted with sample analyses. Aaron Freeman produced Figure 1. Vanessa Beauchamp, Emily Bernhardt, and three anonymous reviewers provided useful comments on previous versions of the manuscript. Any use of trade names is for descriptive purposes only and does not imply endorsement by the US Government.

Supplementary material

10021_2016_80_MOESM1_ESM.rtf (4.6 mb)
Supplementary material 1 (RTF 4737 kb)


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© Springer Science+Business Media New York (outside the USA) 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  • Laura G. Perry
    • 1
    • 2
    Email author
  • Patrick B. Shafroth
    • 2
  • Steven S. Perakis
    • 3
  1. 1.Department of BiologyColorado State UniversityFort CollinsUSA
  2. 2.U.S. Geological Survey, Fort Collins Science CenterFort CollinsUSA
  3. 3.U.S. Geological Survey, Forest and Rangeland Ecosystem Science CenterCorvallisUSA

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