Island development in a mountain river subjected to passive restoration: The Raba River, Polish Carpathians

Sci Total Environ. 2019 Apr 10:660:406-420. doi: 10.1016/j.scitotenv.2018.12.475. Epub 2019 Jan 4.


In the twentieth century the heavily channelized Raba River incised deeply in its mountain course. Abandonment of channelization structures in a 2.3-km-long reach within a forested corridor was followed by considerable channel widening during floods of 30- and 35-year recurrence interval, re-establishment of a multi-thread channel pattern and island development. Morphological and botanical surveys were conducted annually between 2011 and 2017 to determine the processes and patterns governing development of islands and their floristic complexity. Hydraulic conditions promoting establishment and persistence of islands were determined with one-dimensional hydraulic modelling of flood flows for 8 unmanaged river cross-sections with islands and 8 cross-sections in the adjacent channelized reaches. Average age, number of islands and their average and total area in the reach markedly increased over the study period. However, the increase was not steady but moderated by island erosion by flood flows, island establishment shortly after major floods and island coalescence in the years without such floods. Hydraulic modelling indicated that river cross-sections with islands are typified by significantly lower values of mean water depth, flow velocity, unit stream power and bed shear stress at flood flows than cross-sections in the adjacent, channelized reaches. Such conditions promote deposition of living driftwood on channel bars, initiating island development, and reduce the probability of erosion of existing islands. The total number of plant species on islands varied highly and either exceeded or was similar to that recorded on riparian forest plots in particular years. This study indicates that (i) island re-establishment in the river was initiated by substantial channel widening, (ii) variation in flood magnitudes exerts a considerable influence on the trajectory of island development, and (iii) the contribution of islands to the overall species richness of plant communities in the river corridor at early stages of island re-establishment may be highly varied.

Keywords: Erodible river corridor; Hydraulic parameters; Mountain river; Plant species; River island.