Riverscape-level patterns of riparian plant diversity along a successional gradient, Willamette river, Oregon.
Riparian forest communities dominated by Populus balsamifera ssp. trichocarpa L. (Torr. and Gray ex Hook.) Brayshaw are important contributors to biodiversity in terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems of the Western United States. Species composition along a successional gradient from stand initiation to late-succession of P. balsamifera-dominated riparian forests was investigated along 145 km of the Willamette River, Oregon. There were 151 total species encountered across 28 stands and a mean species richness of 33.3 species per stand. Young stands were dominated by P. balsamifera and Salix tree spp. and opportunistic herbaceous species. Understorey trees, shrubs, and herbaceous species as well as late-successional tree species established 12-15 years after stand initiation. Fraxinus latifolia Benth. was the dominant late-successional tree species. Vertical structural diversity, P. balsamifera mean diameter at breast height, large tree biomass, and stand age were strongly correlated with understorey species presence and abundance based on non-metric multidimensional scaling (NMS) ordination. There were no young stands on mid and high terraces and this was reflected in geomorphic position being strongly correlated with the stand age gradient. Abundance of Phalaris arundinacea L. an invasive grass species, was also significantly correlated with plant species composition and abundance. This study indicates that Willamette River riparian forests are diverse and therefore important to the biodiversity of the Willamette River valley and that their presence as a mosaic of communities of different successional stages may be threatened by human interventions, including influences exerted by introduced plant species.