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Relations among geology, physiography, land use, and stream habitat conditions in the Buffalo and Current River systems, Missouri and Arkansas

November 10, 2020

This study investigated links between drainage-basin characteristics and stream habitat conditions in the Buffalo National River, Arkansas and the Ozark National Scenic Riverways, Missouri. It was designed as an associative study - the two parks were divided into their principle tributary drainage basins and then basin-scale and stream-habitat data sets were gathered and compared between them. Analyses explored the relative influence of different drainage-basin characteristics on stream habitat conditions. They also investigated whether a relation between land use and stream characteristics could be detected after accounting for geologic and physiographic differences among drainage basins.
Data were collected for three spatial scales: tributary drainage basins, tributary stream reaches, and main-stem river segments of the Current and Buffalo Rivers. Tributary drainage-basin characteristics were inventoried using a Geographic Information System (GIS) and included aspects of drainage-basin physiography, geology, and land use. Reach-scale habitat surveys measured channel longitudinal and cross-sectional geometry, substrate particle size and embeddedness, and indicators of channel stability. Segment-scale aerial-photo based inventories measured gravel-bar area, an indicator of coarse sediment load, along main-stem rivers. Relations within and among data sets from each spatial scale were investigated using correlation analysis and multiple linear regression.
Study basins encompassed physiographically distinct regions of the Ozarks. The Buffalo River system drains parts of the sandstone-dominated Boston Mountains and of the carbonate-dominated Springfield and Salem Plateaus. The Current River system is within the Salem Plateau. Analyses of drainage-basin variables highlighted the importance of these physiographic differences and demonstrated links among geology, physiography, and land-use patterns. Buffalo River tributaries have greater relief, steeper slopes, and more streamside bluffs than the Current River tributaries. Land use patterns in both river systems correlate with physiography - cleared land area is negatively associated with drainage-basin average slope. Both river systems are dominantly forested (0-35 per-cent cleared land), however, the potential for landscape disturbance may be greater in the Buffalo River system where a larger proportion of cleared land occurs on steep slopes (>15 degrees).
When all drainage basins are grouped together, reach-scale channel characteristics show the strongest relations with drainage-basin physiography. Bankfull channel geometry and residual pool dimensions are positively correlated with drainage area and topographic relief variables. After accounting for differences in drainage area, channel dimensions in Buffalo River tributaries tend to be larger than in Current River tributaries. This trend is consistent with the flashy runoff and large storm flows that can be generated in rugged, sandstone-dominate terrain. Substrate particle size is also most strongly associated with physiography; particle size is positively correlated with topographic relief variables.
When tributaries are subset by river system, relations with geology and land use variables become apparent. Buffalo River tributaries with larger proportions of carbonate bedrock and cleared land area have shallower channels, better-sorted, gravel-rich substrate, and more eroding banks than those with little cleared land and abundant sandstone bedrock. Gravel-bar area on the Buffalo River main stem was also larger within 1-km of carbonate-rich tributary junctions. Because geology and cleared land are themselves correlated, relations with anthropogenic and natural factors could often not be separated.
Channel characteristics in the Current River system show stronger associations with physiography than with land use. Channels are shallower and have finer substrates in the less rugged, karst-rich, western basins than in the

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