Riparian Vegetation Distribution along the Ume River : Predicted responses of riparian plants to environmental flow modifications in run-of-river impoundments
River environments are complex and dynamic ecosystems, and provide valuable ecosystem services such as clean water. The species rich riparian vegetation performs many important ecosystem functions such as reducing erosion and filter inputs from upland areas. Regulated flow regimes have decreased riparian plant species richness, cover and plant performance. To restore the integrity of riparian ecosystems, mitigation measures such as re-regulation of water-level regimes toward more natural seasonal fluctuations may be needed. The aim of this study was to assess potential responses of riparian plants to changes in water-level regulation in run-of-river impoundments to better match natural flow regimes. The elevational extent of plant species on riverbanks of two run-of-river impoundments in the Ume River were surveyed and their probability of occurrence along the gradient of inundation duration was modelled and compared to their distribution in the free-flowing Vindel River. Most species showed similar tolerance to flooding in the Ume and Vindel Rivers. Changes in elevational extent in response to three simulated environmental flow regimes were predicted by using the relationship between plant occurrence and inundation duration. A simulated spring flood and low water levels during the latter part of the growing season is predicted to result in the largest increase in elevational extent, with increases of 70-80% for several riparian species. However, only 47% of the riverbanks along run-of-river impoundments in the Ume River is deemed to be suitable for plant establishment, since many riverbanks are steep and devoid of fine-grained substrate as a result of erosion.
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