The influence of relative sediment supply on riverine habitat heterogeneity

TitleThe influence of relative sediment supply on riverine habitat heterogeneity
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2006
AuthorsYarnell, S. M., Mount JF., & Larsen E. W.
Start Page310
Date Published05/2006
AbstractThe diversity of aquatic habitats in streams is linked to physical processes that act at various spatial and temporal scales. Two components of many that contribute to creating habitat heterogeneity in streams are the interaction between sediment supply and transport capacity and the presence of local in-stream structures, such as large woody debris and boulders. Data from previously published flume and field studies and a new field study on tributaries to the South Yuba River in Nevada County, California, USA, were used to evaluate the relationship between habitat heterogeneity, local in-stream structural features and relative sediment supply. Habitat heterogeneity was quantified using spatial heterogeneity measures from the field of landscape ecology. Relative sediment supply, as expressed by the sediment supply/transport capacity ratio, which controls channel morphology and substrate textures, two key physical habitat characteristics, was quantified using a dimensionless bedload transport ratio, q⁎. Calculated q⁎ values were plotted against an ecologically meaningful heterogeneity index, Shannon's Diversity Index, measured for each study reach, as well as the percent area of in-stream structural elements. The results indicate two potential mechanisms for how relative sediment supply may drive geomorphic diversity in natural river systems at the reach scale. When less mobile structural elements form a small proportion of the reach landscape, the supply/ capacity ratio dictates the range of sediment textures and geomorphic features observed within the reach. In these settings, channels with a moderate relative sediment supply exhibit the highest textural and geomorphic diversity. In contrast, when less mobile structural elements are abundant, forced local scour and deposition creates high habitat heterogeneity, even in the presence of high relative sediment supply.