Ecological Significance of a Geomorphic Stream Classification: Species and Functional Group Composition of Riparian Plant Communities

Wednesday, 17 December 2014
Jeremy R. Shaw1,2 and David J. Cooper1,2, (1)Colorado State University, Department of Forest and Rangeland Stewardship, Fort Collins, CO, United States, (2)Colorado State University, Graduate Degree Program in Ecology, Fort Collins, CO, United States
We tested the ecological significance of a geomorphic classification of Sonoran Desert ephemeral stream channels based on channel plan-form, degree of lateral confinement, and boundary material composition. This typology has been shown to discriminate among channel geometry and hydraulic characteristics for bedrock, bedrock with alluvium, incised alluvium, braided, and piedmont headwater channels. We examined stream reach-scale relationships of geomorphic stream types to the relative cover and density of perennial plant species and functional groups, and identified the dominant fluvial drivers, within riparian communities at 101 ephemeral stream reaches on the U.S. Army Yuma Proving Ground and Barry M. Goldwater Air Force Range in southwestern Arizona, USA. Nonparametric multivariate analysis of variance showed that species and functional group composition differed significantly among geomorphic stream types, both in terms of relative cover and density. Partitioning of among-site multivariate dissimilarity revealed that species compositional differences between stream types were caused largely by variation in the cover and density of the most common members of the regional flora. Distinctive functional group composition among reach types resulted from differences in the cover and density of drought-deciduous shrubs and subshrubs, evergreen trees and shrubs, and photosynthetic-stemmed trees. Comparison of environmental and biotic dissimilarity matrices highlighted the role of channel gradient as the dominant abiotic driver of riparian plant community composition, with stream channel elevation and width:depth providing additional explanatory power. Distinctive riparian plant community composition among the geomorphic stream types demonstrates the ecological significance of this a priori channel classification, and indicates its potential utility in understanding spatial patterns of ecological dynamics, sample stratification for process-based studies, and reference site selection.