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Keywords:

  • dead wood;
  • riparian Vegetation;
  • biological invasions;
  • Acer negundo;
  • Salix alba

Abstract

Little is known about changes in the composition of dead wood jams along rivers and the possible consequences of any such changes on the river ecosystem. Although tree zonation along the upstream-to-downstream continuum is weak and highly variable from a system to another, a clear transition appears in the piedmont zone, which is reflected by transitions in dead wood sources as well as for dead wood transport, storage and decomposition processes. In this paper, we focus on large lowland rivers of southwestern France, where riparian vegetation is increasingly fragmented, reduced in area and/or is entirely replaced by planted forests (poplar plantations). The amount and the potential role of dead wood is practically unknown in these rivers. One reason is that French legislation obliges landowners and public service managers to remove all material from the stream in order to maintain unobstructed river flows. The other reason is that unlike pristine streams in northern regions, these rivers have been regulated for several decades (Adour River) or even for several centuries (Garonne River). The vegetation component of the managed riparian landscape has changed in particular as a result of i) a decrease in stream dynamics, ii) the replacement of natural forests by planted ones, and iii) the invasion of natural communities by introduced woody species.

The possible consequences of biological invasions on the role of dead wood jams are discussed in light of: i) a local study of wood jams along a moderately modified system; ii) changes observed in the composition of trees along the Adour River over the past 10 years; iii) a regional case study involving two chosen species. Whereas white willow populations are declining along streams in southwestern France, the box-elder, introduced from the United States, has spread extensively in the last two decades. Statistical models would suggest that competitive pressures are limited between these two species, boxelder is expected to replace white willow in the near future as a consequence of an increase in river regulation and global warming. This can be expected to have important consequences on dead wood dynamics, and on the management of woody debris, especially since trends indicate a replacement of softwood species by hardwood species. Copyright © 2003 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.