Heterogeneous flows foster heterogeneous assemblages

relationships between functional diversity and hydrological heterogeneity in riparian plant communities

James R. Lawson*, Kirstie A. Fryirs, Tanja Lenz, Michelle R. Leishman

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

12 Citations (Scopus)


Riparian ecosystems are biophysically complex and highly diverse taxonomically, structurally and functionally. While many environmental factors determine the structure and function of riparian vegetation communities, hydrology is thought to be the 'master variable'. Flooding and variability in water availability are known to be key drivers of taxonomic diversity, but their influence on the functional trait diversity of riparian vegetation communities remains largely unexplored. We collected data on species abundance, quantitative plant functional traits and hydrology from 15 sites distributed across south-eastern Australia to address the following questions: (a) Is functional trait diversity related to the frequency and magnitude of flooding disturbance? (b) Is functional trait diversity related to variability in seasonal water availability within the riparian zone? We confirm that metrics describing both flooding disturbance and patterns of water availability exhibit strong relationships with functional trait diversity in riparian vegetation communities of south-eastern Australia. Our key finding is that functional trait diversity in these systems tends to be positively associated with variability in hydrological conditions and the intensity of rare, high-magnitude flooding events, rather than average patterns of flow. Our study highlights the importance of extreme flooding events and temporal patterns of water availability as determinants of diversity in riparian vegetation communities. These relationships may have significant consequences for plant communities experiencing alterations to hydrology caused by anthropogenic flow modification and the changing climate.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2208-2225
Number of pages18
JournalFreshwater Biology
Issue number11
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2015


  • disturbance
  • environmental heterogeneity
  • functional diversity
  • functional trait
  • riparian vegetation

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