Landscape ecology: a framework for integrating pattern and process in river corridors
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Investigations of European floodplain rivers demonstrate how landscape ecology can provide an effective framework to integrate pattern and process in river corridors, to examine environmental dynamics and interactive pathways between landscape elements, and to develop viable strategies for river conservation. The highly complex and dynamic nature of intact river corridors is particularly amenable to a landscape ecology perspective. Analysis of spatial patterns has provided considerable insight into environmental heterogeneity across river corridors and is an essential prelude to examining dynamic interactions. For example, data from aerial photographs, digitized maps and year-round field measurements in a glacial flood plain, enabled us to distinguish six channel types, based on the correspondence between connectivity and physicochemical attributes. Spatial data were also used to analyze longitudinal changes in landscape elements along the course of a morphologically-intact riverine corridor, providing insight into the structural complexity that must have characterized many Alpine rivers in the pristine state. Landscape indices were employed to investigate seasonal dynamics in a glacial flood plain of the Swiss Alps which exhibits a predictable expansion/contraction cycle, with corresponding shifts in flow paths (surface and subsurface) and water sources (snowmelt, englacial, subglacial, alluvial aquifer, hillslope aquifer). Surface connectivity exhibited an unexpected biphasic relationship with total channel length, whereas riverscape diversity progressively increased along the entire range of channel length. Reconstituting the functional integrity that characterizes intact river corridors should perhaps be the major goal of river conservation initiatives. Although understanding functional processes at the landscape scale is essential in this regard, few data are available. In the Alluvial Zone National Park on the Austrian Danube, three phases of hydrological connectivity were identified (disconnection, seepage connection and surface connection) that corresponded to the predominance of three functional processes (biotic interactions, primary production and particulate transport) within the river corridor.
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