Scale-dependent effects of vegetation on flow velocity and biogeochemical conditions in aquatic systems

Sofia Licci, Pierre Marmonier, Geraldene Wharton, Cécile Delolme, Florian Mermillod-Blondin, Laurent Simon, Félix Vallier, Tjeerd J Bouma, Sara Puijalon*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

2 Citations (Scopus)


In rivers, scale-dependent feedbacks resulting from physical habitat modifications control the lateral expansion of submerged plant patches, while the mechanisms that limit patch expansion on a longitudinal dimension remain unknown. Our objective was to investigate the effects of patch length on physical habitat modification (i.e., flow velocity, sediment grain size distribution), the consequences for biogeochemical conditions (i.e., accumulation/depletion of nutrients, microbial respiration), and for individual plants (i.e., shoot length). We measured all of these parameters along natural patches of increasing length. These measurements were performed at two sites that differed in mean flow velocity, sediment grain size, and trophic level. The results showed a significant effect of patch length on organic matter content and nutrient concentrations in interstitial water. For the shortest patches sampled, all of these parameters had similar values to those measured at the upstream control position. For longer patches, organic matter content and orthophosphate and ammonium concentrations increased within the patch compared to the upstream bare sediment, whereas nitrate concentrations decreased, suggesting changes in vertical water exchanges and an increase in anaerobic microbial activities. Furthermore, plant height was related to patch length by a quadratic pattern, probably due reduced hydrodynamic stress occurring for increasing patch length, combined with conditions that are less favourable for plants over a threshold length, possibly due to the light limitation or to the high concentration of ammonium that in the concentration range we measured may be toxic for plants. The threshold lengths over which patches influence the nutrient concentrations were reduced for the site with higher nutrient levels. We demonstrated that the plant-induced modifications of the physical habitat exert important effects on biogeochemical conditions, with possible consequences for patch dynamics and ecosystem functioning.

Original languageEnglish
Article number155123
Number of pages12
JournalThe Science of the Total Environment
Early online date8-Apr-2022
Publication statusPublished - 10-Aug-2022
Externally publishedYes


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