Multiscale influence of woody riparian vegetation on fluvial topography quantified with ground-based and airborne lidar

Sharon Bywater-Reyes, Andrew C. Wilcox, Rebecca M. Diehl

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

36 Scopus citations


Coupling between riparian vegetation and river processes can result in the coevolution of plant communities and channel morphology. Quantifying biotic-abiotic interactions remains difficult because of the challenges in making and analyzing appropriately scaled observations. We measure the influence of woody vegetation on channel topography at the patch and reach scales in a sand bed, dryland river system (Santa Maria River, Arizona) with native Populus and invasive Tamarix. At the patch scale, we use ground-based lidar to relate plant morphology to “tail bars” formed in the lee of vegetation. We find vegetation roughness density (λf) to most influence tail-bar shape and size, suggesting coherent flow structures associated with roughness density are responsible for sediment deposition at this scale. Using airborne lidar, we test whether relationships between topography and vegetation morphology observed at the patch scale are persistent at the reach scale. We find that elevation of the channel (relative to the local mean) covaries with a metric of vegetation density, indicating analogous influences of vegetation density on topography across spatial scales. While these results are expected, our approach provides insight regarding interactions between woody riparian vegetation and channel topography at multiple scales, and a means to quantify such interactions for use in other field settings.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1218-1235
Number of pages18
JournalJournal of Geophysical Research: Earth Surface
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jun 1 2017


  • Tamarix
  • Terrestrial Laser Scanning
  • dryland rivers
  • ecogeomorphology
  • morphodynamic interactions


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