Channelization and floodplain forests: impacts of accelerated sedimentation and valley plug formation on floodplain forests of the Middle Fork Forked Deer River, Tennessee, USA
We evaluated the severe degradation of floodplain habitats resulting from channelization and concomitant excessive coarse sedimentation on the Middle Fork Forked Deer River in west Tennessee from 2000 to 2003. Land use practices have resulted in excessive sediment in the tributaries and river system eventually resulting in sand deposition on the floodplain, increased overbank flooding, a rise in the groundwater table, and ponding of upstream timber. Our objectives were to: (1) determine the composition of floodplain vegetation communities along the degraded river reach, (2) to isolate relationships among these communities, geomorphic features, and environmental variables and (3) evaluate successional changes based on current stand conditions. Vegetation communities were not specifically associated with predefined geomorphic features; nevertheless, hydrologic and geomorphic processes as a result of channelization have clearly affected vegetation communities. The presence of valley plugs and continued degradation of upstream reaches and tributaries on the impacted study reach has arrested recovery of floodplain plant communities. Historically common species like Liquidambar styraciflua L. and Quercus spp. L. were not important, with importance values (IV) less than 1, and occurred in less than 20% of forested plots, while Acer rubrum L., a disturbance-tolerant species, was the most important species on the site (IV = 78.1) and occurred in 87% of forested plots. The results of this study also indicate that channelization impacts on the Middle Fork Forked Deer River are more temporally and spatially complex than previously described for other river systems. Rehabilitation of this system necessitates a long-term, landscape-scale solution that addresses watershed rehabilitation in a spatially and temporally hierarchical manner.