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Regulation leads to increases in riparian vegetation, but not direct allochthonous inputs, along the Colorado River in Grand Canyon, Arizona

Authors

  • Theodore A. Kennedy,

    Corresponding author
    1. Southwest Biological Science Center, U.S. Geological Survey, Flagstaff, AZ 86001, USA
    • Southwest Biological Science Center, U.S. Geological Survey, Flagstaff, AZ 86001, USA.
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    • Both authors contributed equally to the manuscript and authorship was determined alphabetically.

  • Barbara E. Ralston

    1. Southwest Biological Science Center, U.S. Geological Survey, Flagstaff, AZ 86001, USA
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    • Both authors contributed equally to the manuscript and authorship was determined alphabetically.


  • This article is a US Government work and is in the public domain in the USA.

Abstract

Dams and associated river regulation have led to the expansion of riparian vegetation, especially nonnative species, along downstream ecosystems. Nonnative saltcedar is one of the dominant riparian plants along virtually every major river system in the arid western United States, but allochthonous inputs have never been quantified along a segment of a large river that is dominated by saltcedar. We developed a novel method for estimating direct allochthonous inputs along the 387 km-long reach of the Colorado River downstream of Glen Canyon Dam that utilized a GIS vegetation map developed from aerial photographs, empirical and literature-derived litter production data for the dominant vegetation types, and virtual shorelines of annual peak discharge (566 m3 s−1 stage elevation). Using this method, we estimate that direct allochthonous inputs from riparian vegetation for the entire reach studied total 186 metric tons year−1, which represents mean inputs of 470 gAFDM m−1 year−1 of shoreline or 5.17 gAFDM m−2 year−1 of river surface. These values are comparable to allochthonous inputs for other large rivers and systems that also have sparse riparian vegetation. Nonnative saltcedar represents a significant component of annual allochthonous inputs (36% of total direct inputs) in the Colorado River. We also estimated direct allochthonous inputs for 46.8 km of the Colorado River prior to closure of Glen Canyon Dam using a vegetation map that was developed from historical photographs. Regulation has led to significant increases in riparian vegetation (270–319% increase in cover, depending on stage elevation), but annual allochthonous inputs appear unaffected by regulation because of the lower flood peaks on the post-dam river. Published in 2010 by John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

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