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Effects of ice and floods on vegetation in streams in cold regions: implications for climate change
Umeå University, Faculty of Science and Technology, Department of Ecology and Environmental Sciences.
Umeå University, Faculty of Science and Technology, Department of Ecology and Environmental Sciences. (Arcum)
Eawag: Swiss Federal Institute of Aquatic Science and Technology, Kastanienbaum, Switzerland.
2014 (English)In: Ecology and Evolution, ISSN 2045-7758, E-ISSN 2045-7758, Vol. 4, no 21, 4173-4184 p.Article in journal (Refereed) Published
Abstract [en]

Riparian zones support some of the most dynamic and species-rich plant communities in cold regions. A common conception among plant ecologists is that flooding during the season when plants are dormant generally has little effect on the survival and production of riparian vegetation. We show that winter floods may also be of fundamental importance for the composition of riverine vegetation. We investigated the effects of ice formation on riparian and in-stream vegetation in northern Sweden using a combination of experiments and observations in 25 reaches, spanning a gradient from ice-free to ice-rich reaches. The ice-rich reaches were characterized by high production of frazil and anchor ice. In a couple of experiments, we exposed riparian vegetation to experimentally induced winter flooding, which reduced the dominant dwarf-shrub cover and led to colonization of a species-rich forb-dominated vegetation. In another experiment, natural winter floods caused by anchor-ice formation removed plant mimics both in the in-stream and in the riparian zone, further supporting the result that anchor ice maintains dynamic plant communities. With a warmer winter climate, ice-induced winter floods may first increase in frequency because of more frequent shifts between freezing and thawing during winter, but further warming and shortening of the winter might make them less common than today. If ice-induced winter floods become reduced in number because of a warming climate, an important disturbance agent for riparian and in-stream vegetation will be removed, leading to reduced species richness in streams and rivers in cold regions. Given that such regions are expected to have more plant species in the future because of immigration from the south, the distribution of species richness among habitats can be expected to show novel patterns.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Wiley-Blackwell, 2014. Vol. 4, no 21, 4173-4184 p.
Keyword [en]
anchor ice, climate change, in-stream mosses, northern Sweden, plants, riparian vegetation, streams, winter floods
National Category
Environmental Sciences Ecology
URN: urn:nbn:se:umu:diva-97221DOI: 10.1002/ece3.1283ISI: 000344752000013OAI: diva2:773273
Available from: 2014-12-18 Created: 2014-12-12 Last updated: 2016-05-18Bibliographically approved
In thesis
1. Breaking the ice: effects of ice formation and winter floods on vegetation along streams
Open this publication in new window or tab >>Breaking the ice: effects of ice formation and winter floods on vegetation along streams
2015 (English)Doctoral thesis, comprehensive summary (Other academic)
Alternative title[sv]
Klimatförändringar och isbildning i vattendrag : effekter på biologisk mångfald
Abstract [en]

Streams in cold regions are characterized by unique hydrological processes that control flow regime and water levels. One of the most important processes is the formation, growth and melting of different types of ice in and around the stream channel during winter. River ice controls major hydrologic events such as winter floods with magnitudes and frequencies often greater than those created by open-water conditions. While river management in northern countries has already recognized high risk of ice damages, the focus of the risk assessment has been mostly aimed towards the local economy; the ecological role of river ice has been less acknowledged. Along rivers in boreal Sweden, riparian vegetation has developed specific zonation with height and age of the plants increasing the further away they are from the stream channel. On lower levels the vegetation is often comprised of short-lived plants, such as annuals and biennials whereas more permanent woody vegetation is found at higher levels. This zonation has most often been explained by the resilience of different growth forms to the inundation regimes, such as the spring flood in northern systems. Within this framework, I investigated which factors drive the ice formation and how ice and ice-induced floods affect riparian and in-stream vegetation. A 3-year survey was conducted of ice formation and vegetation along 25 stream reaches and a set of experiments were used to evaluate ice as a disturbance agent. Reaches far away from lake outlets which had a low input of groundwater and a high velocity and stream power were most prone to form anchor ice, but many other factors also influenced ice formation. Streams with anchor ice experienced more frequent flooding of the riparian vegetation during winter. Our findings suggests that ice and winter floods favour diversity and create habitat heterogeneity for riparian species. On a community level, woody plants such as evergreen dwarf shrubs are eliminated when flooded during winter, opening up patches for other species to colonize, creating a dynamic riparian understory community. Significant changes in river ice conditions could develop with projected changes in climate which would have important geomorphologic, ecological and socio-economic impacts. One implication of climate change could be less ice disturbance and consequently a riparian vegetation in cold regions that slowly changes from forb to dwarf-shrub dominated with a subsequent decrease in species richness. Changes in species diversity and abundance of groups of species related to changes in ice formation could potentially cascade into riparian and in-stream processes such as nutrient cycling, litter decomposition and organism dispersal.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Umeå: Umeå universitet, 2015. 25 p.
anchor ice, climate change, in-stream, riparian, river ice, streams, vegetation
National Category
urn:nbn:se:umu:diva-99008 (URN)978-91-7601-182-9 (ISBN)
Public defence
2015-02-27, Björken, Sveriges lantbruksuniversitet, Skogsmarksgränd 901 83, Umeå, 09:30 (English)
Swedish Research Council Formas
Available from: 2015-02-06 Created: 2015-02-02 Last updated: 2015-02-04Bibliographically approved

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