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Effects of river flow regime on cottonwood leaf litter dynamics in semi-arid northwestern Colorado

January 1, 2003

We compared production and breakdown of Fremont cottonwood (Populus deltoides wislizenii) leaf litter at matched floodplain sites on the regulated Green River and unregulated Yampa River in semi-arid northwestern Colorado. Litter production under trees was similar at sites in 1999 (250 g/m2, oven-dry) but lower in 2000 (215 and 130 g/m2), a drought year that also featured an outbreak of defoliating beetles at the Yampa River site. Our production values were similar to the few others reported for riparian forests within semi-arid or arid areas. Leaf litter in portions of the floodplain not inundated during the spring flood lost organic matter at the same rate as leaves placed in upland sites in 1998 and 2000: 35 to 50% of organic matter during an approximately 160-day spring and summer period. Inundated litter lost 55 to 90% of its organic matter during the same period. Organic matter loss from inundated leaves increased with duration of inundation and with deposition of fine sediment. Pooled across locations, leafpack data suggested that nitrogen concentration (mg N/kg organic matter) increased until about 65% of the initial organic matter was lost. This increase likely reflected the buildup of microbial decomposer populations. The role of insects and other macroinvertebrates in litter breakdown apparently was minor at both sites. Large spatial and temporal variation in litter dynamics in aridland floodplain settings is ensured by microtopographic variation in the alluvial surface coupled with year-to-year variation associated with most natural flood regimes. Factors reducing flood flow frequency or magnitude will reduce overall breakdown rates on the floodplain towards those found in drier upland environments.

Publication Year 2003
Title Effects of river flow regime on cottonwood leaf litter dynamics in semi-arid northwestern Colorado
DOI 10.1894/0038-4909(2003)048<0188:EORFRO>2.0.CO;2
Authors D.C. Andersen, S. M. Nelson
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Southwestern Naturalist
Index ID 1015288
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Fort Collins Science Center