Impact of natural reforestation on floodpain sedimentation in the Dragonja basin, SW Slovenia

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Changes in floodplain sediment dynamics have profound effects on riverine habitats and riparian biodiversity. Depopulation due to socio-economic changes in the Dragonja catchment (91 km2) in southwestern Slovenia resulted in the abandonment of agricultural fields, followed by natural reforestation since 1945. This profoundly changed the water and sediment supply to the streams, as well as floodplain sediment deposition. This paper presents a reconstruction of the development of the Dragonja floodplain due to these land use changes during the last 60 years. The reconstruction is based on dating of floodplain sediments using 137Cs profiles, measurement of actual sedimentation rates using artificial grass sedimentation mats, and linking this information to the present-day hydrological behaviour of the river. The sedimentation mats showed that floodplain sedimentation was restricted to peak flows of considerable magnitude. Due to the reforestation, the return period of such high flows increased from 0·31 year in the period 1960-1985 to 0·81 year between 1986 and 2003, with commensurate changes in sedimentation rates. At the 1·5 m river terrace (formed about 60 years ago), 137Cs-based sedimentation rates (1960-1986) were roughly twice the rates inferred from the artificial grass mats (2001-2003). This finding matches the increase in the return period for larger peak events during the 1986-2003 period, which caused fewer major inundations at this level. Conversely, sedimentation rates determined for the lowest terrace at 0·5 m were similar for both techniques (and periods) because the return periods of the peak events responsible for sediment deposition at this lower level did not change much over the period 1986-2003.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)49-65
JournalEarth Surface Processes and Landforms
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2007


  • land-use changes
  • fluvial processes
  • soil properties
  • river
  • erosion
  • cesium-137
  • catchment
  • reafforestation
  • subsequent
  • vegetation

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