Research Summaries


Compiled by Alan Carpenter

Propst, D. L., K. B. Gido, and J. A. Stefferud.
2008. Natural flow regimes, nonnative fishes. and native fish persistence in arid-land river systems. Ecological Applications 18:1236-1252.

Escalating demands for water have led to substantial modifications of river systems in arid regions, which coupled with the widespread invasion of nonnative organisms, have increased the vulnerability of native aquatic species to extirpation. Whereas a number of studies have evaluated the role of modified flow regimes and nonnative species on native aquatic assemblages, few have been conducted where the compounding effects of modified flow regimes and established nonnatives do not confound interpretations, particularly at spatial and temporal scales that are relevant to conservation of species at a range-wide level. By evaluating a 19-year data set across six sites in the relatively unaltered upper Gila River basin, New Mexico, USA, we tested how natural flow regimes and presence of nonnative species affected long-term stability of native fish assemblages. Overall, we found that native fish density was greatest during a wet period at the beginning of our study and declined during a dry period near the end of the study. Nonnative fishes, particularly predators, generally responded in opposite directions to these climatic cycles. Our data suggested that chronic presence of nonnative fishes, coupled with naturally low flows reduced abundance of individual species and compromised persistence of native fish assemblages. We also found that a natural flow regime alone was unlikely to ensure persistence of native fish assemblages. Rather, active management that maintains natural flow regimes while concurrently suppressing or excluding nonnative fishes from remaining native fish strongholds is critical to conservation of native fish assemblages.


S. G. Mortenson, P. J. Weisberg, and B. E. Ralston.
2008. Do beavers promote the invasion of non-native Tamarix in the Grand Canyon riparian zone? Wetlands 28:

Beavers (Castor canadensis Kuhl) can influence the competitive dynamics of plant species through selective foraging, collection of materials for dam creation, and alteration of hydrologic conditions. In the Grand Canyon National Park, the native Salix gooddingii C.R.Ball (Goodding’s willow) and Salix exigua Nutt. (coyote willow) are a staple food of beavers. Because Salix competes with the invasive Tamarix ramosissima Ledeb., land mangers are concerned that beavers may cause an increase in Tamarix through selective foraging of Salix. A spatial analysis was conducted to assess whether the presence of beavers correlates with the relative abundance of Salix and Tamarix. These methods were designed to detect a system-wide effect of selective beaver foraging in this large study area (367 linear km of riparian habitat). Beavers, Salix, and Tamarix co-occurred at the broadest scales because they occupied similar riparian habitat, particularly geomorphic reaches of low and moderate resistivity. Once the affinity of Salix for particular reach types was accounted for, the presence of Salix was independent of beaver distribution. However, there was a weak positive association between beaver presence and Salix cover. Salix was limited to geomorphic settings with greater sinuosity and distinct terraces, while Tamarix occurred in sinuous and straighter sections of river channel (cliffs, channel margins) where it dominated the woody species composition. After accounting for covariates representing river geomorphology, the proportion of riparian surfaces covered by Tamarix was significantly greater for sites where beavers were present. This indicates that either Tamarix and beavers co-occur in similar habitats, beavers prefer habitats that have high Tamarix cover, or beavers contribute to Tamarix dominance through selective use of its native woody competitors. The hypothesis that beaver herbivory contributes to Tamarix dominance should be considered further through more mechanistic studies of beaver foraging processes and long-term plant community response.


O. Z. Akasheh, C. M. U. Neale and H. Jayanthi.
2008. Detailed mapping of riparian vegetation in the middle Rio Grande River using high resolution multi-spectral airborne remote sensing. Journal of Arid Environments 72:1734-1744.

This paper describes procedures used to map riparian vegetation in the middle Rio Grande River, New Mexico. Airborne multi-spectral digital images were acquired at 0.5m spatial resolution over the riparian corridor of the Middle Rio Grande River in July 2001. The images were corrected for lens vignetting effects, lens radial distortions, rectified to a base map, mosaicked, calibrated in terms of reflectance and classified. The classification accuracy was assessed using ground truth information obtained through comprehensive field campaigns and independent ground truth information. Surface areas of vegetation classes and in-stream features were extracted from the classified imagery. A longitudinal vegetation distribution analysis was conducted to study the changes in vegetation and water surface areas along the river. This analysis showed an increase in surface areas of the invasive type of vegetation Tamarisk (Tamarix ramosissima) in the downstream direction corresponding to decreases in water surface areas and flow. This indicates significant impacts on the river ecosystem due to many factors. The high resolution airborne remote sensing proved to be a powerful tool for mapping riparian vegetation which is very hard to map using satellite imagery due to its complexity, high diversity, and spatial variability occurring at finer scales.


R. L. Scott, W. L. Cable, T. E. Huxman, P.L. Nagler, M. Hernandez and D. C. Goodrich.
2008. Multiyear riparian evapotranspiration and groundwater use for a semiarid watershed . Journal of Arid Environments 72:1232-1246.

Riparian evapotranspiration (ET) is a major component of the surface and subsurface water balance for many semiarid watersheds. Measurement or model-based estimates of ET are often made on a local scale, but spatially distributed estimates are needed to determine ET over catchments. In this paper, we document the ET that was quantified over 3 years using eddy covariance for three riparian ecosystems along the Upper San Pedro River of southeastern Arizona, USA, and we use a water balance equation to determine annual groundwater use. Riparian evapotranspiration and groundwater use for the watershed were then determined by using a calibrated, empirical model that uses 16-day, 250-1000m remote-sensing products for the years of 2001-2005. The inputs for the model were derived entirely from the NASA MODIS sensor and consisted of the Enhanced Vegetation Index and land surface temperature. The scaling model was validated using subsets of the entire dataset (omitting different sites or years) and its capable performance for well-watered sites (MAD=0.32 mm day-1, R2=0.93) gave us confidence in using it to determine ET over the watershed. Three years of eddy covariance data for the riparian sites reveal that ET and groundwater use increased as woody plant density increased. Groundwater use was less variable at the woodland site, which had the greatest density of phreatophytes. Annual riparian groundwater use within the watershed was nearly constant over the study period despite an on-going drought. For the San Pedro alone, the amounts determined in this paper are within the range of most recently reported values that were derived using an entirely different approach. However, because of our larger estimates for groundwater use for the main tributary of the San Pedro, the watershed totals were higher. The approach presented here can provide riparian ET and groundwater use amounts that reflect real natural variability in phreatophyte withdrawals and improve the accuracy of a watershed’s water budget.