The impact of experimental sedimentation and flooding on the growth and germination of floodplain trees

Ramona L. Walls, Denice Heller Wardrop, Robert P. Brooks

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

57 Scopus citations


Land-use changes in a forested floodplain's watershed can lead to incremental changes in the hydrology and sedimentation rates of the floodplain. The impacts of these changes can be difficult to measure due to the slow response time of mature trees. Seedlings and saplings, on the other hand, may show an immediate response. Responses during these early life history stages can have major consequences for regeneration of floodplain forests and ultimately result in community alteration. This study tested the importance of changes in hydrology and sedimentation on the germination and growth rates of three common floodplain tree species: Acer rubrum, Fraxinus pennsylvanica and Quercus palustris. Two-year-old saplings were grown in a greenhouse under two hydrologic regimes, with or without the addition of sediment. Neither periodic flooding with or without sediment nor static flooding on its own affected the growth of the seedlings. With the addition of sediment, static flooding for two weeks lead to a significant decrease in sapling growth. There was a significant species x treatment interaction, suggesting that each species responded differently to the application of flooding and sediment. The timing of germination and the total percent germination for F. pennsylvanica and Q. palustris seeds were tested under the same conditions. Flooding and sediment acted in an additive manner to delay the germination of both F. pennsylvanica and Q. palustris and to reduce the total germination rate of Q. palustris. There was no difference in the total germination rate of F. pennsylvanica seeds under any treatment. During the growth trials, adventitious roots sprouted on saplings grown under sedimentation. Adventitious roots growing into sediment rather than floodwater should be able to utilize the sediment's nutrients and may compensate for some of the stress of flooding. The results of this study suggest that sediment tolerances will vary among species, but will not necessarily correlate with flood tolerances, and that sedimentation may be as important as flooding in determining floodplain plant community composition.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)203-213
Number of pages11
JournalPlant Ecology
Issue number2
StatePublished - Sep 2005

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Ecology
  • Plant Science


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