Plant structural diversity alters sediment retention on and underneath herbaceous vegetation in a flume experiment

Lena Kretz*, Katinka Koll, Carolin Seele-Dilbat, Fons van der Plas, Alexandra Weigelt, Christian Wirth

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

6 Citations (Scopus)


Sediment retention is a key ecosystem function provided by floodplains to filter sediments and nutrients from the river water during floods. Floodplain vegetation is an important driver of fine sediment retention. We aim to understand which structural properties of the vegetation are most important for capturing sediments. In a hydraulic flume experiment, we investigated this by disentangling sedimentation on and underneath 96 vegetation patches (40 cm x 60 cm). We planted two grass and two herb species in each patch and conducted a full-factorial manipulation of 1) vegetation density, 2) vegetation height, 3) structural diversity (small-tall vs tall-tall species combinations) and 4) leaf pubescence (based on trait information). We inundated the vegetation patches for 21 h in a flume with silt- and clay-rich water and subsequently measured the amount of accumulated sediment on the vegetation and on a fleece as ground underneath it. We quantified the sediment by washing it off the biomass and off the fleece, drying the sediment and weighting it. Our results showed that all manipulated vegetation properties combined (vegetation density and height, and the interaction of structural diversity and leaf pubescence) explained sedimentation on the vegetation (total R2 = 0.34). The sedimentation underneath the vegetation was explained by the structural diversity and the leaf pubescence (total R2 = 0.11). We further found that vegetation biomass positively affected the sedimentation on and underneath the vegetation. These findings are crucial for floodplain management strategies with the aim to increase sediment retention. Based on our findings, we can identify management strategies and target plant communities that are able to maximize a floodplain’s ability to capture sediments.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere0248320
JournalPLoS ONE
Issue number3 March
Publication statusPublished - 18 Mar 2021


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