The role of large wood in retaining fine sediment, organic matter and plant propagules in a small, single-thread forest river
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© 2015 Elsevier B.V.This paper investigates associations among large wood accumulations, retained sediment, and organic matter and the establishment of a viable propagule bank within a forested reach of a lowland river, the Highland Water, UK.A wood survey within the 2-km study reach, illustrates that the quantity of wood retained within the channel is typical of relatively unmanaged river channels bordered by deciduous woodland and that the wood accumulations (jams) that are present are well developed, typically spanning the river channel and comprised of wood that is well decayed.Sediment samples were obtained in a stratified random design focusing on nine subreaches within which samples were aggregated from five different types of sampling location. Two of these locations were wood-associated (within and on bank faces immediately adjacent to wood jams), and the other three locations represented the broader river environment (gravel bars, bank faces, floodplain). The samples were analysed to establish their calibre, organic, and viable plant propagule content.The gravel bar sampling locations retained significantly coarser sediment containing a lower proportion of organic matter and viable propagules than the other four sampling locations. The two wood-related sampling locations retained sediment of intermediate calibre between the gravel bar and the bank-floodplain samples but they retained significantly more organic matter and viable propagules than were found in the other three sampling locations. In particular, the jam bank samples (areas of sediment accumulation against bank faces adjacent to wood jams) contained the highest number of propagules and the largest number of propagule species.These results suggest that retention of propagules, organic matter and relatively fine sediment in and around wood jams has the potential to support vegetation regeneration, further sediment retention, and as a consequence, landform development within woodland streams, although this process is arrested by grazing at the study site. These results also suggest that self-restoration using wood is a potentially cost-effective and far-reaching river restoration strategy but that its full effects develop gradually and require the establishment of a functioning wood budget coupled with grazing levels that are in balance with vegetation growth.