Riparian vegetation diversity along regulated rivers: contribution of novel and relict habitats


W. Carter Johnson Department of Horticulture, Forestry, Landscape, and Parks, South Dakota State University, Brookings, SD 57007, U.S.A. E-mail:


1. The creation and maintenance of spatial and temporal heterogeneity by rivers flowing through floodplain landscapes has been disrupted worldwide by dams and water diversions. Large reservoirs (novel ecosystems) now separate and isolate remnant floodplains (relict ecosystems). From above, these appear as a string of beads, with beads of different sizes and string connections of varying lengths.

2. Numerous studies have documented or forecast sharp declines in riparian biodiversity in relict ecosystems downstream from dams. Concurrently, novel ecosystems containing species and communities of the former predam ecosystems have arisen along all regulated rivers. These result from the creation of new environments caused by upper reservoir sedimentation, tributary sedimentation and the formation of reservoir shorelines.

3. The contribution of novel habitats to the overall biodiversity of regulated rivers has been poorly studied. Novel ecosystems may become relatively more important in supporting riverine biodiversity if relict ecosystems are not restored to predam levels. The Missouri River of the north-central U.S.A. is used to illustrate existing conditions on a large, regulated river system with a mixture of relict and novel ecosystems.