The role of a non-native tree in riparian vegetation expansion and channel narrowing along a dryland river

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Along rivers, native and invasive species may establish and persist on active channel bedforms as part of channel narrowing. Using historical aerial photography and dendrochronology, we quantified spatial and temporal patterns of narrowing and vegetation expansion, including native Fremont cottonwood (Populus fremontii) and non‐native Russian olive (Elaeagnus angustifolia), along the largely unregulated Escalante River in south‐western United States. Russian olive establishment was examined with respect to hydrologic and climate variables. Narrowing along the Escalante River was initiated during a mid‐20th century drought. Cottonwood rapidly colonized higher, bar surfaces between the 1950s and 1981. Small numbers of Russian olive established in moist sites during this period as the channel narrowed by nearly 80%. After 1981, there was no obvious cottonwood establishment but low channel bars and banks were rapidly colonized by Russian olive. Hydroclimate predictors were equivocal but exponential growth of this large‐seeded, shade‐tolerant species lagged its introduction by 30 years, apparently because of delayed reproductive maturity, limited seed availability, and widespread availability of favourable establishment sites following initial channel narrowing. Sediment trapping, levee formation, and modification of channel form by dense, channel‐edge bands of Russian olive progressively limited new establishment sites and by 2000, recruitment declined sharply. Our results have implications for management of non‐native tree invasions along arid‐region rivers, including identification of low, moist, active channel bars where the establishment and physical impacts of Russian olive appear to be most pronounced and where focused management efforts are likely to be most effective.

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Publication type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Title The role of a non-native tree in riparian vegetation expansion and channel narrowing along a dryland river
Series title Ecohydrology
DOI 10.1002/eco.1988
Volume 11
Issue 7
Year Published 2018
Language English
Publisher Wiley
Contributing office(s) Fort Collins Science Center
Description e1988, 17 p.
First page e1988
Country United States
State Utah
Other Geospatial Escalante River
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