Great Basin Naturalist


Riparian ecosystems are important components of landscapes, particularly because of their role in biodiversity. A first step in using a "coarse-filter" approach to riparian biodiversity conservation is to determine the kinds of riparian ecosystems. These ecosystems vary substantially in plant species composition along a single river reach, as well as between rivers, and yet the river-reach scale has received little attention. We sampled the vascular plant composition of 67 contiguous patches of riparian vegetation along the reach of the Animas River, in southwestern Colorado's San Juan Mountains, that is relatively undisturbed by human land uses. Using cluster analysis and detrended correspondence analysis, we identified eight riparian community types along the reach. Using a new technique, we combined overstory size-class data and understory cover data to identify community types. The eight community types, which are in part the products of past floods, are spatially arranged along the reach in relation to variation in valley morphology, tributary location, and geomorphic landforms. These eight community types do not necessarily represent successional stages of a single potential vegetation type. This study at the river-reach scale suggests that sampling and analysis, as well as conservation, may need to be turned to the scale of patchiness produced by flood disturbances in the riverine landscape, since vegetation varies significantly at this scale.