Vegetation, soils, and hydrogeomorphology of riparian patch types of a dryland river

K. J. Bagstad, S. J. Lite, Juliet Stromberg

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

44 Scopus citations


From a landscape perspective, riparian corridors can be viewed as mosaics of vegetation patches. We delineated 10 patch types within the floodplain of the San Pedro River (Arizona) on the basis of physiognomy, dominant overstory species, and tree size class; and we assessed differences in hydrogeomorphology, vegetation structure, plant species richness, and soil chemistry and texture. Patches of tamarisk (Tamarix), an introduced species, fell within the continuum of variation shown by other patch types in the landscape mosaic. Among the tree-dominated types, cottonwood-willow (Populus- Salix) and tamarisk patches were inundated more frequently than mesquite (Prosopis) patches, while cottonwood-willow patches had shallower groundwater than tamarisk or mesquite patches. Due to the wetter conditions, cottonwood-willow patches had a high relative abundance of wetland and exotic species in the understory. Tamarisk patches and wet shrublands (Baccharis salicifolia-Salix exigua) had high woody stem densities while cottonwood-willow patches had dense canopy cover. In association with differences in canopy cover, cottonwood-willow patches had low herbaceous species richness but high woody species richness, while tamarisk patches had high herbaceous and low woody species richness. Soil electrical conductivity, silt content, organic matter content, and available phosphorus increased from young to old stands of both tamarisk and cottonwood-willow, often resulting in greater differences between patches of different size/age class than between patches with different dominant species. Surface soil salinity (electrical conductivity) was low in all patches, including those dominated by tamarisk. Nitrate was abundant in soils of tamarisk patches (perhaps reflecting their high clay content) and wet shrubland patches. Dry shrublands (Hymenoclea-Ericameria) and wet shrublands were similar to young forest patches in having coarse soils with little organic matter.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)23-44
Number of pages22
JournalWestern North American Naturalist
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2006


  • Baccharis
  • Exotic
  • Floodplain
  • Hymenoclea
  • Nutrients
  • Patch dynamics
  • Populus
  • Salinity
  • Salix
  • Saltcedar
  • San Pedro River
  • Soils
  • Species richness
  • Succession
  • Tamarix

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Ecology


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