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Keywords:

  • riparian vegetation;
  • fluvial geomorphic processes and landforms;
  • vegetation patterns;
  • flood;
  • the Czech Republic

ABSTRACT

Rivers with a natural flow regime strongly influence the dynamics of riparian plant communities through hydrological and geomorphological processes. In this study, associations between fluvial landforms and vegetation are investigated on three near-natural rivers in the Czech Republic a decade after a 500-year return period flood in July 1997. This extreme disturbance destroyed the anthropogenically modified river channels and created suitable conditions for a range of ecosystems with high diversity and ecological stability. Field surveys were conducted on fluvial landforms (bars, islands, banks, floodplains and terraces) along three ‘renaturalized’ rivers, where no technical modifications had subsequently been made to their channels outside urban areas and the floodplains had been left in a post-flood state. Vegetation species abundance and 13 environmental variables (topographical, hydrological and soil) were investigated in summer 2007, 10 years after the extreme flood disturbance. The results suggest that the recently created fluvial geomorphic forms are key environmental determinants of riparian vegetation distribution patterns. A range of statistical analyses illustrate that some plant species show predictable patterns of occurrence that correspond with the fluvial forms, supporting a fourfold grouping of herbaceous and woody species and the identification of typical plant communities associated with gravel bars, islands, banks, floodplains and terraces. An investigation of the species richness found on different fluvial landforms showed that the highest number of species occurred on the floodplain and decreased gradually towards the channel bed and towards terraces. Investigation of existing conditions in reaches of rivers with natural dynamics of fluvial processes provides valuable information that can be used as an effective tool for planning restoration strategies and precise management. However, the most important finding of this study is the remarkable establishment of complex river corridor vegetation–landform associations within 10 years of a 500-year flood that removed the heavily cultivated landscape that had existed before the event. Copyright © 2011 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.