New Zealand Journal of Ecology (2006) 30(3): 357- 370

Vegetation on the edge: a gradient analysis of the riparian zone, Poerua River, New Zealand

Research Article
C. J. Miller 1,2
  1. Department of Conservation, Hokitika, New Zealand
  2. Current address: CSIRO Sustainable Ecosystems, 306 Carmody Rd, St Lucia, QLD 4067, Australia

Forest vegetation patterns alongside the Poerua River, south Westland, were studied to determine whether a distinct riparian community could be defined either immediately adjacent to the river, or out to the limit of overbank flooding. Ten randomly located 100 m transects were established perpendicular to the river at each of two sites. Ground cover of alluvial sediment indicated that annual overbank flooding occurred up to 20 m into the forest (the flood zone). No significant difference in vascular plant species richness was found between the flood zone and non-flood zone at either site, however a significant difference in species richness was found between sites, and this was attributed to recent disturbance at the edge of one site. Detrended correspondence analysis separated plots by site and indicated a gradient of species change from the river’s edge to the ends of the transects. There were inconsistent differences in the densities and/or basal areas of trees and shrubs between sites and zones. No distinct band of vegetation was recognizable as a riparian zone alongside the Poerua River. Instead, there was evidence that edge processes had influenced vegetation patterns on a gradient away from the river, fluvial processes had eroded into, and influenced the vegetated edge, and historical disturbance events had had strong effects on vascular plant community composition. The riparian zone incorporates the whole floodplain and environmental management needs to take this into consideration.