Changes in Community-Level Riparian Plant Traits over Inundation Gradients, Colorado River, Grand Canyon

Miles E. McCoy-Sulentic, Thomas E. Kolb, David M. Merritt, Emily Palmquist, Barbara E. Ralston, Daniel A. Sarr, Patrick B. Shafroth

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

29 Scopus citations


Comparisons of community-level functional traits across environmental gradients have potential for identifying links among plant characteristics, adaptations to stress and disturbance, and community assembly. We investigated community-level variation in specific leaf area (SLA), plant mature height, seed mass, stem specific gravity (SSG), relative cover of C4 species, and total plant cover over hydrologic zones and gradients in years 2013 and 2014 in the riparian plant community along the Colorado River in the Grand Canyon. Vegetation cover was lowest in the frequently inundated active channel zone, indicating constraints on plant establishment and production by flood disturbance and anaerobic stress. Changes in trait values over hydrologic zones and inundation gradients indicate that frequently inundated plots exhibit a community-level ruderal strategy with adaptation to submergence (high SLA and low SSG, height, seed mass, C4 relative cover), whereas less frequently inundated plots exhibit adaptation to drought and infrequent flood disturbance (low SLA and high SSG, height, seed mass, C4 relative cover). Variation in traits not associated with inundation suggests niche differentiation and multiple modes of community assembly. The results enhance understanding of future responses of riparian communities of the Grand Canyon to anticipated drying and changes in hydrologic regime.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)635-646
Number of pages12
Issue number4
StatePublished - Aug 1 2017


  • C4 photosynthesis
  • Plant functional trait
  • Regulated river
  • Riparian
  • Seed mass
  • Specific leaf area
  • Stem specific gravity
  • Stream flow
  • Wood density

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Environmental Chemistry
  • Ecology
  • General Environmental Science


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