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You are here: Home / Library / RBINS Staff Publications / Abundance and production of riparian trees in the lowland floodplain of the Queets River, Washington

E.V.a Balian and R.J.a Naiman (2005)

Abundance and production of riparian trees in the lowland floodplain of the Queets River, Washington

Ecosystems, 8(7):841-861.

Riparian zones associated with alluvial rivers are spatially dynamic, forming distinct vegetative mosaics that exhibit sharp contrasts in structure and processes related to the underlying biophysical template. The productivity of riparian plants, especially trees, influences streamside community characteristics as well as the forms and fluxes of organic matter to adjacent streams - thereby strongly impacting patterns of channel morphology, water flow, sedimentation, and habitat in rivers. As part of a comprehensive investigation of riparian dynamics in coastal rain forest rivers of the Pacific Northwest (USA), we examined riparian tree abundance (density, basal area, and biomass) and rates of production (basal area growth [BAI] and bole wood biomass increase [P]) of seven common species - red alder (Alnus rubra), Sitka spruce (Picea sitchensis), bigleaf maple (Acer macrophyllum), western hemlock (Tsuga heterophylla), black cottonwood (Populus trichocarpa), vine maple (Acer circinatum) and willow (Salix spp.) - in the lowland floodplain of the Queets River (Olympic National Park), Washington. Measurements were made annually for three years (1999 - 2001) in 16 permanent plots on three biophysical templates that formed a toposequence - active floodplain, young terrace and mature terrace. Stem density was highest in the active floodplain (∼27,000 stems/ ha), decreasing in the young terrace (∼2,700 stems /ha) and the mature terrace (∼500 stems/ha). Basal area and total stem biomass were lowest in the active floodplain (∼16 m2/ha and ∼18 Mg dry weight/ha, respectively) and higher on the young terrace (∼32 m2/ha and ∼134 Mg dry weight/ha) and on the mature terrace (∼69 m2/ha and ∼540 Mg dry weight /ha). Total plot-scale BAI was not significantly different among the physical templates with mean values ranging from approximately 1.4 (low terrace) to approximately 2.8 m2/ha/y (active floodplain). In contrast, P was significantly higher on the mature terrace (10.3 Mg/ha) than the active floodplain (3.2 Mg/ha) but there was no significant difference between young terrace (6.5 Mg/ha) and mature terrace. For the entire Queets River floodplain (57 km2 over 77 km of river length), the mature terrace contributed 81\% of the total annual production (28,764 Mg) whereas the active floodplain and young terrace accounted only for 5 and 14\%, respectively. Overall, we show that riparian trees grow quickly in this coastal Pacific Northwest system and that the older riparian forests on mature terraces are the main contributors to stem production at the plot and floodplain scales for at least 350 years after stand initiation. This suggests that, in combination with the rapid lateral migrations of many alluvial rivers, the older riparian forests on those terraces are important and sustained sources of organic matter (especially large woody debris, LWD) that, over decades to centuries, shape the character of coastal rivers in the Pacific Northwest. © 2005 Springer Science+Business Media, Inc.

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