This paper proposes a methodology to assess the effects of artificial embankments on riparian vegetation. It then tests the methodology on a mountain torrent system in Calabria, Southern Italy. The method delimits homogeneous reaches within which a sample of embanked and control (unembanked) sites is identified for study. Transects, subdivided into sample areas, are located in embanked and control sub-reaches. At these transects, vegetation parameters (number of species, canopy cover of each species and vegetation layer, height of each vegetation layer, vegetation type, biological forms and ecological groups) are surveyed. Two new parameters (global canopy cover and weighted canopy height) are also proposed to give synthetic information on the global development of vegetation. A simple hydraulic index (cAb/W) is used to explore differences in riparian vegetation both along the river and according to local narrowing caused by embanking. Application of this methodology to a torrent system (locally called ‘fiumara’) illustrates a clear influence of concrete embankments in the upper and middle torrent reaches. It demonstrates that torrent narrowing induces: a decrease in the number of vegetation types with a tendency to confine the types to generally lower evolution levels and with a less marked trend between the thalweg and embankment; an increase in annual species and decrease in perennial species; and also a lower global canopy cover with, sometimes, a reduction in the weighted canopy height (WCH).
This example illustrates that the methodology provides useful information concerning the impact of existing control works, which can aid the design of new works and can inform environmentally sensitive restoration of Mediterranean water courses. Copyright © 2007 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.