Differences in cottonwood growth between a losing and a gaining reach of an alluvial floodplain

Mary J. Harner, Jack A. Stanford

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

82 Scopus citations


Interstitial flow of river (hyporheic) water influences algal productivity, benthic assemblages, and locations of fish spawning. However, little is known of the effects of hyporheic flow on the growth of riparian vegetation. By increasing water availability and nutrient delivery, regional upwelling of hyporheic water may increase the growth of terrestrial vegetation. We tested and accepted the hypothesis that cottonwood trees (Populus trichocarpa) in a gaining reach of an alluvial floodplain grow faster than trees in a losing reach by comparing basal areas and ages on an expansive floodplain in western Montana (USA). Trees in the gaining reach had basal areas twice the size of the trees in the losing reach, after correcting for tree age. In addition, the carbon-to-nitrogen ratios in leaves were 16% lower in the gaining reach. Lower cottonwood stem densities, deeper layers of fine sediments, and a higher water table occurred in the gaining compared to the losing reach. Each of these variables was significantly correlated with tree growth and likely interacted to influence the productivity of cottonwoods. We concluded that hydration and fertilization of riparian trees likely is mediated by hyporheic flow.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1453-1458
Number of pages6
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jun 2003
Externally publishedYes


  • Cottonwood
  • Dendrochronology
  • Floodplain
  • Groundwater
  • Growth
  • Hyporheic
  • Interstitial flow
  • Montana, USA
  • Populus
  • Riparian
  • Tree rings

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics


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