Long-term changes in the riparian vegetation of a large, highly anthropized river: Towards less hygrophilous and more competitive communities - INRAE - Institut national de recherche pour l’agriculture, l’alimentation et l’environnement Access content directly
Journal Articles Ecological Indicators Year : 2023

Long-term changes in the riparian vegetation of a large, highly anthropized river: Towards less hygrophilous and more competitive communities

Abstract

Vegetation resurvey has proven effective in understanding long-term trajectories of plant communities. Combined with information related to ecological preferences and ecological strategies of plants, this framework can provide insight into the dynamics of communities and associated ecological processes over several decades. By comparing old and recent vegetation surveys, we sought to understand how past changes in flow and sediment regimes along a 100-km reach of the Rhône river still influence the structure of riparian plant communities. Specifically, we studied variations in the mean and dispersion values of light, nutrient availability and soil moisture, as well as of competitors, stress tolerators and ruderals, at the community scale over four decades and along connectivity and productivity gradients. Results showed that communities were composed of more hygrophilous and heliophilous species in old surveys and that this decrease in soil moisture and light over time was broadly consistent along environmental gradients. In response to these environmental changes, the ecological strategies of riparian vegetation have evolved into more competitive and less stress-tolerant communities. This was illustrated by the decline of the pioneer species Salix alba, but the increase in several post-pioneer woody species. Given that these changes were observed on almost all the plots studied, irrespective of their position along the connectivity and productivity gradients, our results reflect to some extent an overall evolution of the system towards more mature and closed successional stages. Thus, over a period of 40-years, and probably due to the legacy effects of anthropogenic modifications to flow and sediment regimes that have favored more stable riparian environments, a directional shift of riparian communities towards more advanced successional stages was highlighted. In a context where past and present anthropogenic stressors are accumulating, we infer that these changes in riparian ecosystem properties are probably irreversible and represent a major challenge for restoration.
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hal-04282699 , version 1 (20-11-2023)

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Vincent Breton, Jacky Girel, Philippe Janssen. Long-term changes in the riparian vegetation of a large, highly anthropized river: Towards less hygrophilous and more competitive communities. Ecological Indicators, 2023, 155, pp.111015. ⟨10.1016/j.ecolind.2023.111015⟩. ⟨hal-04282699⟩
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