Quantifying the potential for flow to remove the emergent aquatic macrophyte Sparganium erectum from the margins of low-energy rivers

Pollen-Bankhead, N.; Thomas, R.E.; Gurnell, A.M.; Liffen, T.; Simon, A.; O'Hare, M.T.. 2011 Quantifying the potential for flow to remove the emergent aquatic macrophyte Sparganium erectum from the margins of low-energy rivers. Ecological Engineering, 37 (11). 1779-1788.

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The emergent macrophyte species Sparganium erectum occurs commonly at the margins of low- to medium- energy river systems across the northern temperate zone. It is considered as an invasive species along low-energy water courses in many parts of the US and Australia. The life-cycle and biomechanical properties of this species make it very well adapted to such environments, allowing rapid growth and sediment trapping, such that encroachment into the channel occurs as the growing season progresses. The widespread growth of species such as S. erectum is therefore of particular concern, when considering the flood risk potential of many rivers. As such, the conditions required for survival or uprooting and scouring of this plant are of interest, as are the times of the year and processes by which these plants spread to increase the size of current stands, and to form new stands. It is known that S. erectum reproduces by several vegetative methods including rhizome growth, dispersal of detached rhizomes, and relocation of entire plants. However, the mechanisms and flow conditions necessary for uprooting or scouring of entire plants, and the separation of fragments of this species, at different times of the year, are largely unknown. The aim of this paper is to model the uprooting resistance of S. erectum plants as reported by Liffen et al. (in press), and to investigate the manner by which this species is adapted to proliferate in low-energy, low-gradient streams. The results presented here show that Monte Carlo simulations using the RipRoot root-reinforcement model can be used to accurately model plant pullout forces, rhizome interconnectivity and length changes for S. erectum plants throughout the growing season. Analysis presented here also suggests that plant uprooting forces are several orders of magnitude larger than potential drag forces that could act on the S. erectum plants at the River Blackwater site modeled, and even at sites with much higher channel slopes. This result suggests that the ability of these plants to thrive in low-energy rivers, but not in higher-energy river environments, is less related to driving forces causing drag on the plants, and more related to the energy conditions controlling erosion and deposition of the fine substrate materials these plants thrive in. The critical shear stress of the fine within-vegetation material was shown here to only be exceeded by the average boundary shear stress within the vegetation, during winter months when above-ground biomass and thus Manning's n values were at their lowest. For example, during March and April average boundary shear stress was predicted to exceed critical boundary shear stress for 6% of the time. Erodibility measurements from jet-tests conducted at the River Blackwater fieldsite suggested that this excess in boundary shear stress could result in potential vertical scour of up to 0.09 m in both March and April. During the majority of the growing season sediment trapping rather than erosion dominated, with enough deposition occurring over the summer to protect all but the shallowest, weakest and least interconnected rhizomes and plants from being scoured in the winter months. The balance between erosion and deposition within stands of S. erectum in these low-energy environments therefore allows for the maintenance of established stands of vegetation, whilst still allowing for scouring of weaker S. erectum plants that can establish previously un-colonized channel margins further downstream.

Item Type: Publication - Article
Digital Object Identifier (DOI):
Programmes: CEH Topics & Objectives 2009 - 2012 > Water
UKCEH and CEH Sections/Science Areas: Watt
ISSN: 0925-8574
Additional Keywords: Sparganium erectum, uprooting forces, drag forces, critical shear stress, sediment retention, scour
NORA Subject Terms: Ecology and Environment
Date made live: 20 Jan 2012 16:40 +0 (UTC)

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