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Open-File Report 2007–1379

Vegetation Response to the 1995 Drawdown of the Navigation Pool at Felsenthal National Wildlife Refuge, Crossett, Arkansas

By Rebecca J. Howard and Christopher J. Wells

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Open-File Report
2007-1379 PDF (1.2 MB)

Felsenthal Navigation Pool (“the pool”) at Felsenthal National Wildlife Refuge near Crossett, Ark., was continuously flooded to a baseline elevation of 19.8 m (65.0 ft) mean sea level (m.s.l.) from late fall 1985, when the final in a series of locks and dams was constructed, until the summer of 1995. Water level within the pool was reduced by 0.3 m (1.0 ft) beginning July 5, 1995, exposing about 1,591 ha (3,931 acres) of sediment; the reduced water level was maintained until October 25 of that year. A total of 15 transects was established along the pool margin before the drawdown, extending perpendicular from the pool edge to 19.5 m (64.0 ft) in elevation. Plant species composition and cover were recorded at six to seven quadrats on each transect; 14 of the transects were also monitored three times during the drawdown and in June 1996. Soil near five of the original transects was disturbed two weeks into the drawdown by scraping the soil surface with a bulldozer. Soil cores were collected to characterize soil organic matter, texture class, carbon and nitrogen content, and plant nutrient concentrations; soil samples were also collected to identify species present in the seed bank prior to and during the drawdown.

Plant species, several of which were high quality food sources for waterfowl, colonized the drawdown zone within four weeks. Vegetation response, measured by species richness, total cover, and cover of Cyperus species, was often greater at low compared to high elevations in the drawdown zone; this effect was probably intensified by low rainfall during the summer of 1995. Vegetation response on the disturbed transects was reduced compared to that on the undisturbed transects. This effect was attributed to two factors: (1) removal of the existing seed bank by the disturbance technique applied and (2) reduced incorporation of seeds recruited during the drawdown because of unusually low summer rainfall. Seed bank studies demonstrated that several species persisted despite nearly 10 years of continual flooding, and that seed bank species richness increased during the drawdown. Analyses indicated that predominantly clay soils containing relatively low organic matter were present along the pool margin. Levels of the plant nutrients measured were consistent with normal values reported for soils. Although conclusions from this study are limited by its one-year time frame, it is unlikely that permanent change to plant community function in the drawdown zone resulted from the lowered water levels during the summer of 1995. While species composition in the summer following the drawdown differed from that prior to the drawdown, the plant community remained dominated by annual floating-leaved or submersed species. It is probable that any future decrease in summer water levels in the pool will result in increased growth of desirable waterfowl food plants, such as Cyperus erythrorhizos (red-root flat sedge) and Leptochloa fascicularis var. fascicularis (bearded sprangletop), in the drawdown zone.

Version 1.0

Posted March 2008

Suggested citation:

Howard, R.J., and Wells, C.J., 2007, Vegetation response to the 1995 drawdown of the navigation pool at Felsenthal National Wildlife Refuge, Crossett, Arkansas: U.S. Geological Survey Open-File Report 2007–1379, 52 p.





Study Area and Experimental Design

Data Collection

Statistical Analysis


Transects and Plant Community Descriptions

Transect and Elevation Effects

Disturbance and Elevation Effects

Base Pool Stage Vegetation

Seed Bank

Soil Characteristics


Conclusions and Management Implications


References Cited

Appendix 1. Description of 19 transects monitored at Felsenthal National Wildlife Refuge from June 1995 to June 1996, indicating quadrat distance from base marker and relative elevation

Appendix 2. Plant species percentage of frequency of occurrence at five sampling times at Felsenthal National Wildlife Refuge

Appendix 3. Plant species total cover summed over transects at five sampling times at Felsenthal National Wildlife Refuge

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