Articles | Volume 17, issue 10
Research article
17 Oct 2013
Research article |  | 17 Oct 2013

Spatio-temporal heterogeneity of riparian soil morphology in a restored floodplain

B. Fournier, C. Guenat, G. Bullinger-Weber, and E. A. D. Mitchell

Abstract. Floodplains have been intensively altered in industrialized countries, but are now increasingly being restored. It is therefore important to assess the effect of these restoration projects on the aquatic and terrestrial components of ecosystems. However, despite being functionally crucial components of terrestrial ecosystems, soils are generally overlooked in floodplain restoration assessments. We studied the spatio-temporal heterogeneity of soil morphology in a restored (riverbed widening) river reach along the River Thur (Switzerland) using three criteria (soil diversity, dynamism and typicality) and their associated indicators. We hypothesized that these criteria would correctly discriminate the post-restoration changes in soil morphology, and that these changes correspond to patterns of vascular plant diversity.

Soil diversity and dynamism increased 5 yr after the restoration, but some typical soils of braided rivers were still missing. Soil typicality and dynamism were correlated to vegetation changes. These results suggest a limited success of the project, in agreement with evaluations carried out at the same site using other, more resource-demanding, methods (e.g., soil fauna, fish diversity, ecosystem functioning).

Soil morphology provides structural and functional information on floodplain ecosystems. The spatio-temporal heterogeneity of soil morphology represents a cost-efficient ecological indicator that could easily be integrated into rapid assessment protocols of floodplain and river restoration projects.

The follow-up assessment after several major floods (≥ HQ20) should take place to allow for testing the longer-term validity of our conclusion for the River Thur site. More generally, it would be useful to apply the soil morphology indicator approach in different settings to test its broader applicability.