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River channel response to invasive plant treatment across the American Southwest

October 21, 2022

Invasive riparian plants were introduced to the American Southwest in the early 19th century and contributed to regional trends of decreasing river channel width and migration rate in the 20th century. More recently, efforts to remove invasive riparian vegetation (IRV) have been widespread, especially since 1990. To what extent has IRV treatment reversed the earlier trend of channel narrowing and reduced dynamism? In this study, paired treated and untreated reaches at 15 sites along 13 rivers were compared before and after IRV treatment using repeat aerial imagery to assess long-term (~10-year) channel change due to treatment on a regional scale across the Southwest USA. We found that IRV treatment significantly increased channel width and floodplain destruction. Treated reaches had higher floodplain destruction than untreated reaches at 14 of 15 sites, and IRV treatment increased the rate of floodplain destruction by a median factor of 1.9. The effect of treatment increased with the stream power of the largest flow over the study period. Resolving observations of channel change into separate measures of floodplain destruction and formation provided more information on underlying processes than simple measurements of channel width and centerline migration rate. Restoration practitioners who perform IRV treatment projects often focus on wildlife or vegetation response; however, geomorphic processes should be considered in restoration planning because they drive aquatic habitat and vegetation dynamics, and because of the potential for damage to downstream infrastructure. Depending on the restoration goal, management practices can be used to enhance or minimize the increase in channel dynamism caused by IRV treatment.

Publication Year 2023
Title River channel response to invasive plant treatment across the American Southwest
DOI 10.1002/esp.5503
Authors Celeste Wieting, J. M. Friedman, Sara L. Rathburn
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Earth Surface Processes and Landforms
Index ID 70239894
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Fort Collins Science Center