Fluvial sediment supply and pioneer woody seedlings as a control on bar-surface topography

Rebecca M. Diehl, Andrew C. Wilcox, John C. Stella, Li Kui, Leonard S. Sklar, Anne Lightbody

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

41 Scopus citations


Plants influence river channel topography, but our understanding of the interaction among plants, flow, and sediment is limited, especially when sediment supply is variable. Using laboratory experiments in a recirculating flume with live seedlings in a mobile sand bed, we demonstrate how varying the balance between sediment supply and transport capacity shifts the relationship between plants and bar-surface topography. Each experimental trial contrasted two sediment conditions, in which initially supply was maintained in equilibrium with transport via sediment recirculation, followed by sediment deficit, in which transport capacity exceeded supply, which was set to zero. For both sediment balances, the topographic response was sensitive to plant size, with larger plants inducing greater aggradation relative to a baseline condition. During sediment equilibrium, the positive relationship between plant size and topographic change also depended on species morphology (multi-stemmed shrubs versus single-stemmed plants). Plant morphology effects disappeared when the sediment balance shifted to a deficit, but the presence of plants had a greater impact on the magnitude of change compared to the topographic response under sediment equilibrium. Our results suggest that the interactions among sediment supply, plants, and topography may be strongest on rivers with a balance in sediment supply and transport capacity. Because of the large variability in fluvial sediment supply resulting from natural and anthropogenic influences, these interactions will differ spatially (e.g. longitudinally through a watershed) and at different temporal scales, from single flood events to longer time periods.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)724-734
Number of pages11
JournalEarth Surface Processes and Landforms
Issue number5
StatePublished - Apr 1 2017


  • ecogeomorphology
  • riparian vegetation
  • sediment supply


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