Flood-deposited wood debris and its contribution to heterogeneity and regeneration in a semi-arid riparian landscape

Neil E. Pettit, Robert J. Naiman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

43 Citations (Scopus)


We investigated whether large woody debris (LWD) piles create nodes of environmental resources that contribute to the recovery of riparian vegetation and that also augment the heterogeneity and resilience of the riverine system. River and riparian systems are typified by a large degree of heterogeneity and complex interactions between abiotic and biotic elements. Disturbance such as floods re-distribute the resources, such as LWD, and thereby add greater complexity to the system. We examined this issue on a semi-arid savanna river where a ∼100-year return interval flood in 2000 uprooted vegetation and deposited substantial LWD. We investigated the micro-environment within the newly established LWD piles and compared this with conditions at adjacent reference sites containing no LWD. We found soil nutrient concentrations to be significantly higher in LWD piles compared with the reference plots (total N +19%, available P +51%, and total C +36%). Environmental variables within LWD piles and reference sites varied with landscape position in the river-riparian landscape and with LWD pile characteristics. Observed differences were generally between piles located in the terrestrial and riparian areas as compared to piles located on the macro-channel floor. After 3 years the number and cover of woody species were significantly higher when associated with LWD piles, regardless of landscape position or pile type. We conclude that LWD piles formed after large floods act as resource nodes by accumulating fine sediments and by retaining soil nutrients and soil moisture. The subsequent influence of LWD deposition on riparian heterogeneity is discerned at several spatial scales including within and between LWD piles, across landscape positions and between channel types. LWD piles substantially influence the initial developmental of riparian vegetation as the system regenerates following large destructive floods.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)434-444
Number of pages11
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 1 Sep 2005
Externally publishedYes


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