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Riparian vegetation responses to altered flow regimes driven by climate change in Mediterranean rivers


Correspondence to: Rui Rivaes, Centro de Estudos Florestais, Instituto Superior de Agronomia, Technical University of Lisbon, Tapada da Ajuda, 1349-017 Lisboa, Portugal.



Mediterranean regions are characterized by a large intra-annual and inter-annual variability in rainfall and associated hydrological regime patterns. Predictions of changes in climate indicate that mean precipitation and annual temperature will both increase, with a concentration of precipitation and the existence of extended and harsher drought periods with profound implications for river ecosystems. Our aim in this study was to predict the response of Mediterranean riparian vegetation to different climate change scenarios, using a dynamic riparian vegetation model that relates flow regime with riparian vegetation dynamics. In our case study, mapped riparian patches were significantly distinct in between, and altitude, height above water table, patch age and stem diameter were the most important of the factors that distinguished succession phases. A floodplain vegetation model was calibrated and achieved a good strength of agreement between simulated and observed maps. Model results with the expected flow regime under the effect of climate change demonstrate that nonwoody sparsely vegetated areas expand outwards and mature succession patches expand inwards, whereas pioneer and young riparian patches decrease in area. Our results suggest that extreme climatic change in Mediterranean rivers will promote the disappearance of the pioneer and young succession stages of riparian woodlands, thus making efforts to conserve these ecosystems a challenging task. Copyright © 2012 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.