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Human-disturbed landscapes: effects on composition and integrity of riparian woody vegetation in the Tagus River basin, Portugal

  • FRANCISCA C. AGUIAR (a1) and MARIA TERESA FERREIRA (a1)

Abstract

Human activities within fluvial corridors and surrounding landscapes have persistently stressed riparian ecosystems, particularly in Iberian Mediterranean-type streams. The impact of human disturbance relative to natural environmental factors in shaping riparian vegetation is still poorly understood. Both regional variables (such as altitude and precipitation), and site-specific characteristics (such as substrate and riverbank modifications) were analysed as potential determinants of riparian vegetation patterning to determine the relative influences of the diverse land-use types and environmental factors on the composition (including floristic species richness and percentage cover of trees, shrubs and woody climbers) and integrity (width of riparian woods and patterns of longitudinal continuity) of riparian woods in eight river basins of the Tagus fluvial system (Portugal). There was patchy establishment of riparian woods, with generally low average width and low species richness, as well as significant inter-basin differences and upstream-downstream variations in riparian features. Species distribution was clearly determined by environmental factors, such as human disturbance on the riverbanks and geological background, and the environmental variables and the land use in the river valley partially explained the integrity of riparian woody vegetation. The results highlight the predictive capability of reach-level features; it appears that, linked with the geomorphological and climate context, small-scale human disturbances on riparian corridors play a major role in explaining the remaining biological variability.

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Correspondence: Dr Francisca Aguiar Tel: +351 213 653 487 Fax: +351 213 645 000 e-mail: fraguiar@isa.utl.pt

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