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Assessment of riparian vegetation patterns and change downstream from Glen Canyon Dam from 2014 to 2019

April 13, 2023

Changes in riparian vegetation cover and composition occur in relation to flow regime, geomorphic template, and climate, and can have cascading effects on aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems. Tracking such changes over time is therefore an important part of monitoring the condition and trajectory of riparian ecosystems. Maintaining diverse, self-sustaining riparian vegetation comprised of mostly native species is identified in the Glen Canyon Dam Long-Term Experimental and Management Plan as a key resource objective for the section of the Colorado River between Glen Canyon Dam and Lake Mead. The U.S. Geological Survey Grand Canyon Monitoring and Research Center implemented an annual monitoring program in 2014 to assess the status and trends of riparian vegetation along this section of river, particularly as they relate to flow regime. In this report, we summarize plant species composition and cover data collected under the annual monitoring program from 2014 to 2019, with special consideration given to the hydrologic position, associated geomorphic feature class, local climate patterns, native and nonnative species, and floristic region for key vegetation metrics and species. We divided the study area into four river segments (referred to as Glen Canyon, Marble Canyon, eastern Grand Canyon, and western Grand Canyon) on the basis of geography and floristic composition and calculated each recorded plant species’ relative frequency and foliar cover by river segment. These data were then used to evaluate species composition relationships among river segments, hydrologic zones, geomorphic features, and sampling years through ordination analysis. Temporal trends in our focal resource objectives—species richness, total foliar cover, proportion of native to nonnative species richness, proportion of native to nonnative species cover, Tamarix cover, Pluchea sericea cover, and Baccharis species cover—were assessed using mixed-effects models. Four patterns related to species composition emerged: (1) species composition of fixed-site sandbars differed from that of randomly selected sites (including randomly selected sandbars), (2) species composition of Glen Canyon sites differed from that of other previously identified floristic regions, (3) species composition differed across hydrologic zones related to dam operations, and (4) species composition within river segments did not change across years. For temporal patterns, four main findings emerged: (1) trends differed between fixed-sites and randomly selected sites; (2) although few directional changes were observed from 2014 to 2019, Baccharis species cover increased at randomly selected sites in areas influenced by daily water fluctuations; (3) native species cover and richness were greater than nonnative species cover and richness across all hydrologic zones; and (4) the temporal trend metrics used here can be used across floristic groups, enabling assessment of the Colorado River ecosystem as a whole. In addition to these findings, lists of recorded plant species are included as appendixes. The variations and patterns in vegetation status and trends presented in this report can be used as a baseline against which future monitoring can be compared.

Publication Year 2023
Title Assessment of riparian vegetation patterns and change downstream from Glen Canyon Dam from 2014 to 2019
DOI 10.3133/ofr20231026
Authors Emily C. Palmquist, Bradley J. Butterfield, Barbara E. Ralston
Publication Type Report
Publication Subtype USGS Numbered Series
Series Title Open-File Report
Series Number 2023-1026
Index ID ofr20231026
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Southwest Biological Science Center