Question: How important is hydrochory for dispersing propagules along riverbanks and to what extent do the quantity and species composition of deposited propagules reflect the riparian vegetation, represent “new” species that are not present in the vegetation, and vary with river flow and season?
Location: River Frome, Dorset, UK.
Methods: Over 13 consecutive 6-week time periods, during which river water levels were continuously monitored, aerial inputs of propagules to riverbanks were sampled using funnels, hydrochorous propagule transport was sampled using drift nets, and deposition across the riverbanks was sampled using astroturf mats. A survey of the riparian vegetation enabled comparison between samples and the standing vegetation, so that “new” species could be identified. Differences in propagule abundance and diversity between sampling methods, time periods and locations were tested using Mann-Whitney U-tests and Kruskall-Wallis ANOVA. DCA established contrasts in the floristic composition of all deposited propagules and “new” propagules between different sample types, time periods and locations.
Results: Aerial seed fall generated few propagules of low species richness. Hydrochory introduced large numbers of propagules and new species, resulting in high propagule deposition on the riverbank. The number and diversity of deposited propagules was governed by seasonal patterns of seed release and the hydrological regime. Propagule deposition was significantly greater on the most frequently inundated parts of the riverbank and autumn floods were particularly important for transporting “new” species to the study site and for remobilizing previously released propagules.
Conclusions: The abundance and diversity of propagules deposited along riverbanks is dependent upon high river flows, which facilitates connectivity between the channel and the riparian zone.