Long-term vegetation dynamics after high-density seedling establishment: Implications for riparian restoration and management

D. P. Bunting, S. Kurc, M. Grabau

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

9 Scopus citations


Human disturbances have contributed to the deterioration of many western US rivers in the past century. Cottonwood-willow communities, present historically along the Colorado River, protect watersheds and provide wildlife habitat, but are now among the most threatened forests. As a result, restoration efforts have increased to re-establish and maintain cottonwood-willow stands. While successful establishment has been observed using multiple strategies with varying investments, few projects are evaluated to quantify efficacy and determine long-term sustainability. We monitored a seeded cottonwood-willow site over a five-year period beginning in 2007, with particular interest in how density affected vegetation diversity and stand structure over time. Fremont cottonwood (Populus fremontii) and volunteer tamarisk (Tamarix ramosissma) were the only abundant riparian trees at the site after one year. P. fremontii, compared to T. ramosissma, had higher growth rates, lower mortality, and dominated overstory and total cover each year. Vegetation diversity decreased from 2007-2009, but was similar from 2009-2011 as a result of decreased herbaceous and increased shrub species richness. Diversity was highest in the lowest density class (1-12 stems/m2), but similar among all other classes (13-24, 25-42, 43+). High initial woody species densities resulted in single-stemmed trees with depressed terminal and radial growths. Allometry, relating height to DBH at different densities, could prove to be an important tool for long-term restoration management and studying habitat suitability. Understanding long-term trends at densely-planted or seeded sites can benefit restoration managers who aim to establish specific community structure and vegetation diversity for wildlife habitat.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1119-1130
Number of pages12
JournalRiver Research and Applications
Issue number9
StatePublished - Nov 2013


  • Colorado River
  • Cottonwood
  • Diameter at breast height
  • Populus fremontii modelling
  • Revegetation
  • Saltcedar
  • Tamarix ramosissima

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Environmental Chemistry
  • Water Science and Technology
  • Environmental Science(all)


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