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Keywords:

  • environmental flows;
  • flooding;
  • flow regime;
  • recruitment;
  • regeneration;
  • riparian vegetation;
  • river hydrology;
  • vegetation dynamics

Abstract

The natural flow regime and the relationship between flows and riparian vegetation are described for sites on both the Blackwood River in south-western Australia and the Ord River in north-western Australia. Analysis of long-term flow data showed the historic mean monthly river discharge for the Blackwood River is strongly seasonal and highly predictable with generally low variability each month. The Ord River showed a strong seasonality of flows with about 92% of the (total) yearly flow occurring between December and March. Flow variability was very high (e.g. coefficient of variation >100% for all months) but highly predictable, with this mostly attributed to low but constant dry-season flows. Water depth, duration of flood events and the number of flood events per year show a significant correlation with aspects of the riparian vegetation within experimental vegetation plots. Results highlight the strong relationship between floristics, life form structure and population dynamics with stream hydrology. On the Blackwood River, species richness and cover of shrubs reduced with increased duration and frequency of flooding, while cover of exotic species and annual herbs increased with increased flooding. Germination of tree seedlings was not influenced by flood regime but size class of tree species increased with flooding frequency. On the Ord River, species richness was not influenced by flooding regime. However, cover of perennial grasses increased with flooding frequency whilst cover of shrubs decreased. There was no relationship between flooding and seedling establishment whilst tree size class decreased with increased flooding. The methods described here can be used to compare the response of different components of the riparian vegetation to different fluvial regimes (e.g. because of impoundment and abstraction). This technique can be expanded for the management of riparian zones and planning rehabilitation programmes. It may also be useful for improving the ecological knowledge base for setting environmental flows in regulated systems. Copyright © 2001 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.