Colonisation of terrestrial vegetation in an intermittent river: Diversity responses to seasonal drying

Tory Milner, John Dutton, Chloe Hayes

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Citations (Scopus)


Intermittent rivers are dynamic ecosystems that experience a predictable or unpredictable loss of surface water and are characterised by changing lotic, lentic (ponding) and dry habitats. Plant communities colonising dry channels during the desiccation stage can be diverse, abundant and differ in their tolerances to water availability and habitat conditions. This study examines the colonisation of terrestrial vegetation in two intermittent rivers in the United Kingdom, and whether terrestrial plant taxonomic richness and functional diversity increase during the dry phase. Six reaches were surveyed for terrestrial plants during the dry phase over a standard 100 m length every month from April to October 2021. We found the channel and bank taxonomic richness increased with drying duration. Functional traits of vegetation height, clonality, clonality richness and Ellenberg's value of light moisture also increased with stream desiccation. Bed sediment conditions (the proportion of sand and gravel) and the 12-month antecedent percentage of zero flow days were the key drivers of plant community composition. We believe plant propagules from the riparian zone and channel vegetation on topographic high points in the channel aided plant colonisation of the riverbed once flow ceased. Past research may have underestimated the biodiversity value of intermittent rivers by failing to include the ecological importance of plants during the dry phase. Information on plant diversity of the dry phase is important to determine the overall biodiversity of intermittent rivers for their long-term conservation and management.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)703-717
Number of pages15
JournalRiver Research and Applications
Issue number4
Early online date16 Dec 2022
Publication statusPublished - 1 May 2023


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