Relationship between vegetation hydrology and fluvial landforms on an unregulated sand-bed stream in the Hunter Valley Australia

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Chalmers, AC, Erskine, WD, Keene, AF & Bush, RT 2012, 'Relationship between vegetation, hydrology and fluvial landforms on an unregulated sand-bed stream in the Hunter Valley, Australia', Austral Ecology, vol. 37, no. 2, pp. 193-203.

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A survey of fluvial landforms was conducted at Widden Brook, an unregulated sand-bed stream in the Hunter Valley, New South Wales (NSW), Australia, to investigate the physical factors associated with vegetation pattern in Riverine Oak Forest. Groundwater depth and chemistry (pH, dissolved oxygen and electrical conductivity) were measured using piezometers and submersible data loggers on three fluvial landforms (i.e. toe of bank, top of bank and floodplain) along five transects. Floristic composition, canopy cover, bare ground and leaf litter were assessed within 45 quadrats on the three landforms along the five transects. Elevation above the bed and flood return period were determined by cross-sectional survey and flood frequency analysis, while flow duration was determined from the gauge record. Canonical correspondence analysis demonstrated that vegetation composition was associated with average watertable depth and flood variables to a similar extent. The relative importance of these factors would be expected to vary with flood- and drought-dominated climatic periods on a scale of several decades. Floristic composition was moderately associated with the canopy cover of the dominant woody species, Casuarina cunninghamiana (Miq.), but weakly correlated with bare ground and groundwater chemistry. Suites of species were associated with particular fluvial landforms and their corresponding flood and watertable conditions. The reach examined has characteristics similar to both the semi-arid and mesic riparian ecosystems of the USA. The coarse sediments, high flood variability, short flood duration and dominance by a pioneer tree that relies on groundwater are similar to riparian ecosystems in the western USA, while the relatively broad floodplain and the development of a forest canopy that is associated with the distribution of understorey plants are similar to the mesic riparian systems in the eastern USA.