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Hydropeaking affects germination and establishment of riverbank vegetation

Citation

Bejarano, María D. et al. (2020), Hydropeaking affects germination and establishment of riverbank vegetation , Dryad, Dataset, https://doi.org/10.5061/dryad.sqv9s4n0m

Abstract

Hydropeaking, defined as frequent and rapid variation in flow in regulated rivers with hydropower plants over a short period of time, usually sub-daily to weekly, alters hydraulic parameters such as water levels or flow velocity and exerts strong impacts on fluvial ecosystems. We evaluated the effects of hydropeaking on riverbank vegetation, specifically assessing the germination and establishment of seedlings and cuttings of plant species representing a variation in traits. We used seeds and seedlings and cuttings varying in size as phytometers, and transplanted them to riverbanks both above and below dams used for hydropower production in northern Sweden, selected to represent a gradient in hydropeaking intensity, and along a free-flowing reach. We also analyzed sub-daily water level variables modified by hydropeaking to identify variables key in explaining the observed vegetation patterns. We found that plant responses to hydropeaking varied with species, with flood-intolerant species being the most strongly affected, as early as the germination stage. In contrast, seeds of flood-tolerant species managed to germinate and survive the early establishment phase, although strong erosive processes triggered by hydropeaking eventually caused most of them to fail. The fate of flood-intolerant species identifies germination as the most critical life-history stage. The depth and frequency of the inundation were the leading variables explaining plant responses, while the duration of shallow inundation explained little of the variation. The rise and fall rates of water levels were key explaining variation in germination success. Based on the results, we propose restoration measures to enhance establishment of riparian plant communities while minimizing the impact on hydropower electricity production. Given the strong decrease in the germination of species intolerant to prolonged flooding with hydropeaking, planting of seedlings, preferably of large sizes, together with restrictions in the operation of the power plant during the establishment phase to enhance survival would be the best restoration option. Given the high probability of plant uprooting with hydropeaking, bank protection measures have the potential to increase riparian-plant survival of all species, including flooding tolerant ones.

Methods

Water level data and vegetation performance data were collected from the Ume and Vindel rivers in Northern Sweden, along experimental riparian levels parallel to the water edge, in several experimental sites per river reach. Water levels were measured by pressure transducer data loggers (Rugged Baro and Diver TROLL 100 Data Logger) every 15 minutes, during the growing season. Vegetation performance involved in-situ measurements of the germination success, stem length and whether plants were alive or had been moved or displaced. They also involved lab measurements of dry plant biomass. 

Usage Notes

Missing values or non-applicable measurements were identified by NA

Funding

The EU-FP7- PEOPLE Marie Curie IEF actions, Award: Ref. 623691

The Spanish Ministry of Economy, Industry and Competitiveness, Award: Ref. JC2016MDBC

The Universidad Politécnica de Madrid (Programa Propio: Ayudas a Proyectos de I+D de Investigadores Posdoctorales)