The paper has four major objectives: (1) to determine whether diaspore mimics accurately represent dispersal dynamics of real diaspores in a free-flowing river; (2) to estimate distance travelled and reasons for stranding of floating diaspores along a free-flowing river; (3) to test if species composition and seedling recruitment vary with the ability of the riverbank to trap waterborne drift; and (4) to compare diaspore dispersal in a free-flowing river with that in a regulated river where current velocity has been reduced.
The field work was conducted in two 7th-order boreal rivers in northern Sweden, the free-flowing Vindel River and the regulated Ume River.
We performed a series of dispersal experiments. We tested the usefulness wooden cubes of diaspore mimics for performing dispersal experiments by releasing cubes and achenes of Helianthus annuus and compare their dispersal patterns in the free-flowing Vindel River. We used the cubes to identify 50-m long sections along the river with different trapping capacity, i.e. the number of stranded diaspore mimics within a 50-m section. We then related the number of stranded diaspore mimics to the vascular plant flora, the proportions of species with long or short floating times (i.e. more than or less than 2 days, respectively), the number of seedlings, and to environmental variables within the sections. We also released wooden cubes in a run-of-river impoundment to determine the dispersal capacity of diaspores in a regulated river.
The cubes were useful as diaspore mimics. They dispersed similarly to achenes of H. annuus. The stranding pattern of diaspore mimics was significantly associated with water current. Species richness of vascular plants per 50-m section increased with the number of stranded mimics. Seedling recruitment, and the proportions of species with short-floating and long-floating diaspores, did not vary with the number of stranded mimics. The ability of a river to transport diaspores downstream was strongly reduced by impoundment.
We conclude that patterns of species richness of riparian vegetation is in part determined by the ability of the riverbank to trap waterborne diaspores, but differences in floating ability among species did not affect the species composition along free-flowing rivers.