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Riparian Ecology and Conservation

Ed. by Zhang, Yixin

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Direct and indirect drivers of instream wood in the interior Pacific Northwest, USA: decoupling climate, vegetation, disturbance, and geomorphic setting

Nate Hough-Snee
  • Department of Watershed Sciences and Ecology Center, Utah State University, 5210 Old Main Hill, Logan, UT 84322-5210
  • USDA Forest Service Forest Sciences Laboratory, PIBO Effectiveness Monitoring Program, 60 N 1200 E, Logan, UT 84321
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/ Alan Kasprak
  • Department of Watershed Sciences, Utah State University, 5210 Old Main Hill, Logan, UT 84322-5210
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/ Brett B. Roper
  • Department of Watershed Sciences, Utah State University, 5210 Old Main Hill, Logan, UT 84322-5210
  • National Stream and Aquatic Ecology Center, USDA Forest Service Forest Sciences Laboratory, 860 N 1200 E, Logan, UT 84321
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/ Christy S. Meredith
  • USDA Forest Service Forest Sciences Laboratory, PIBO Effectiveness Monitoring Program, 60 N 1200 E, Logan, UT 84321
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Published Online: 2014-06-03 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.2478/remc-2014-0002


Instream wood is a driver of geomorphic change in low-order streams, frequently altering morphodynamic processes. Instream wood is a frequently measured component of streams, yet it is a complex metric, responding to ecological and geomorphic forcings at a variety of scales. Here we seek to disentangle the relative importance of physical and biological processes that drive wood growth and delivery to streams across broad spatial extents. In so doing, we ask two primary questions: (1) is riparian vegetation a composite variable that captures the indirect effects of climate and disturbance on instream wood dynamics? (2) What are the direct and indirect relationships between geomorphic setting, vegetation, climate, disturbance, and instream wood dynamics? We measured riparian vegetation composition and wood frequency and volume at 720 headwater reaches within the American interior Pacific Northwest. We used ordination to identify relationships between vegetation and environmental attributes, and subsequently built a structural equation model to identify how climate and disturbance directly affect vegetation composition and how vegetation and geomorphic setting directly affect instream wood volume and frequency. We found that large wood volume and frequency are directly driven by vegetation composition and positively correlated to wildfire, elevation, stream gradient, and channel bankfull width. Indicator species at reaches with high volumes of wood were generally long-lived, conifer trees that persist for extended durations once delivered to stream habitats. Wood dynamics were also indirectly mediated by factors that shape vegetation: wildfire, precipitation, elevation, and temperature. We conclude that wood volume and frequency are driven by multiple interrelated climatic, geomorphic, and ecological variables. Vegetation composition and geomorphic setting directly mediate indirect relationships between landscape environmental processes and instream large wood. Where climate or geomorphic setting preclude tree establishment, reaches may remain naturally depauperate of instream wood unless wood is transported from elsewhere in the stream network.

Keywords: Instream wood; riparian vegetation; stream habitat; indirect effects; Columbia River; Missouri River; structural equation models


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About the article

Received: 2013-10-06

Accepted: 2014-03-04

Published Online: 2014-06-03

Citation Information: Riparian Ecology and Conservation, Volume 2, Issue 1, Pages 14–34, ISSN (Online) 2299-1042, DOI: https://doi.org/10.2478/remc-2014-0002.

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© 2014 Nate Hough-Snee et al.. This work is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 3.0 License. BY-NC-ND 3.0

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