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Ecology. 2006 Mar;87(3):704-16.

Flood-pulse and riverscape dynamics in a braided glacial river.

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  • 1UMR CNRS 5023, Ecologie des Hydrosystèmes Fluviaux, UniversitĂ© Claude Bernard Lyon, 43 Bd 11 Novembre 1918, 69622 Villeurbanne, France.


River ecosystems are increasingly viewed as dynamic riverscapes; their extent, composition, and configuration vary in response to the pulsing of discharge. Although compositional and configurational shifts in riverscapes are thought to control ecosystem processes and biodiversity, attempts to quantify riverscape dynamics of braided rivers are scarce. We measured monthly changes in the length, spatial arrangement, and age distribution of clear (groundwater-fed) and turbid-water (glacial-fed) channels during two annual cycles in a braided glacial river. Biological data from concurrent studies were used to assess the effects of seasonal changes in the size and pattern of the riverscape on local zoobenthic density, standing crop of epilithic algae, and spatiotemporal distribution of the hyporheos. The hydrological processes involved in the expansion-contraction cycle of the riverscape resulted in a complex, albeit predictable, pattern of change in the proportion and spatial arrangement of clear and turbid channels. On average, 30% of the riverscape was renewed at monthly intervals. Surface hydrological connectivity and the length of turbid channels increased logarithmically with increasing discharge. The length of clear channels increased up to a threshold discharge of 1.5 m3/s, above which surface flooding resulted in the contraction and fragmentation of clear water bodies. Turbid channels exhibited a unimodal age distribution, whereas clear channels had two cohorts that appeared during the expansion and contraction phases. The renewal pattern and configuration of the riverscape changed little between years despite differences in discharge and the occurrence of several rainfall-induced spates. The density of benthic invertebrate communities in the main channel decreased with increasing size of aquatic habitats indicating that local zoobenthic density was affected by dilution-concentration effects. The disproportionate increase in the proportion of glacial-fed habitats during summer high flows limited the standing crop of epilithic algae in this braided river. The spatial arrangement of inhospitable glacial-fed habitats probably impeded the colonization of newly created suitable habitats by invertebrates with poor dispersal capacities. Quantification of riverscape dynamics is critical to understanding how changes in size, composition, and configuration of braided rivers affect biodiversity, bioproduction, and ecosystem processes.

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