Productivity of ephemeral headwater riparian forests impacted by sedimentation in the southeastern United States coastal plain

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Received for publication April 30, 2008. Riparian forests serve an essential function in improving water quality through the filtering of sediments and nutrients from surface runoff. However, little is known about the impact of sediment deposition on productivity of riparian forests. Sediment inputs may act as a subsidy to forest productivity by providing additional nutrients for plant uptake or may act as a stress by creating anoxic soil conditions. This study determined how sediment deposition affected riparian forests along ephemeral headwater streams at Ft. Benning, Georgia, USA. Above- and belowground productivity, leaf-area index (LAI), and standing crop biomass for fine roots, shrubs, and trees were compared along a gradient of present sedimentation rates in 17 riparian forests. Annual litterfall production was determined from monthly collections using 0.25- m2 traps; woody biomass was determined from annual diameter at breast height (DBH) measurements using species-specific allometric equations; fine root productivity was determined using sequential coring; LAI was measured by expanding specific leaf area by annual litterfall production; and shrub biomass was determined using species-specific biomass equations based on height and root collar diameter. Significant declines in litterfall, woody biomass production, fine root production, LAI, and shrub biomass were found with as little as 0.1 to 0.4 cm yr–2 sedimentation. We conclude that the levels of sedimentation in this study do not subsidize growth in ephemeral headwater riparian forests but instead create a stress similar to that found under flooded conditions.

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