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Abstract

In this study, we examined the site-specific effects of a large episodic flood on the riparian vegetation within the floodplain of the San Luis Rey River in southern California. Using multispectral airborne videography, we quantified percent cover of riparian vegetation, cultivated agricultural land, urban surfaces, upland vegetation, bare soil, and water within 22 sections of flood-plain, both before and after a large flood (January 13, 1993). We also quantified the amount of these cover types within bands of the watershed 1 km wide × 5 km long directly upstream of each floodplain site. The amount of riparian vegetation destroyed by the flood within each section varied from nearly zero to almost 40% of pre-flood coverage. The magnitude of loss in riparian vegetation was most strongly related to the amount of riparian vegetation initially present in the floodplain and the amount of urban surfaces in the nearby watershed. These results suggest that riparian vegetation within the San Luis Rey River floodplain is generally at high risk of destruction from large floods, and that this risk is exaggerated in areas with high urban development. We infer from these results that sites near existing large areas of intact riparian vegetation and away from urban development will have the highest potential for successful long-term restoration.