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Biol Rev Camb Philos Soc. 2010 Nov;85(4):837-58. doi: 10.1111/j.1469-185X.2010.00129.x.

The role of hydrochory in structuring riparian and wetland vegetation.

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Landscape Ecology Group, Department of Ecology and Environmental Science, Umeå University, SE-901 87 Umeå, Sweden.


Hydrochory, or the passive dispersal of organisms by water, is an important means of propagule transport, especially for plants. During recent years, knowledge about hydrochory and its ecological consequences has increased considerably and a substantial body of literature has been produced. Here, we review this literature and define the state of the art of the discipline. A substantial proportion of species growing in or near water have propagules (fruits, seeds or vegetative units) able to disperse by water, either floating, submerged in flowing water, or with the help of floating vessels. Hydrochory can enable plants to colonize sites out of reach with other dispersal vectors, but the timing of dispersal and mechanisms of establishment are important for successful establishment. At the population level, hydrochory may increase the effective size and longevity of populations, and control their spatial configuration. Hydrochory is also an important source of species colonizing recruitment-limited riparian and wetland communities, contributing to maintenance of community species richness. Dispersal by water may even influence community composition in different landscape elements, resulting in landscape-level patterns. Genetically, hydrochory may reduce spatial aggregation of genetically related individuals, lead to high gene flow among populations, and increase genetic diversity in populations receiving many propagules. Humans have impacted hydrochory in many ways. For example, dams affect hydrochory by reducing peak flows and hence dispersal capacity, altering the timing of dispersal, and by presenting physical barriers to dispersal, with consequences for riverine plant communities. Hydrochory has been inferred to be an important vector for the spread of many invasive species, but there is also the potential for enhancing ecosystem restoration by improving or restoring water dispersal pathways. Climate change may alter the role of hydrochory by modifying the hydrology of water-bodies as well as conditions for propagule release and plant colonization.

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