Vegetation controls on channel network complexity in coastal wetlands

Roeland C. van de vijsel*, Jim Van belzen, Tjeerd J. Bouma, Daphne Van der wal, Bas W. Borsje, Stijn Temmerman, Loreta Cornacchia, Olivier Gourgue, Johan Van de Koppel

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

4 Citations (Scopus)


Channel networks are key to coastal wetland functioning and resilience under climate change. Vegetation affects sediment and hydrodynamics in many different ways, which calls for a coherent framework to explain how vegetation shapes channel network geometry and functioning. Here, we introduce an idealized model that shows how coastal wetland vegetation creates more complexly branching networks by increasing the ratio of channel incision versus topographic diffusion rates, thereby amplifying the channelization feedback that recursively incises finer-scale side-channels. This complexification trend qualitatively agrees with and provides an explanation for field data presented here as well as in earlier studies. Moreover, our model demonstrates that a stronger biogeomorphic feedback leads to higher and more densely vegetated marsh platforms and more extensive drainage networks. These findings may inspire future field research by raising the hypothesis that vegetation-induced self-organization enhances the storm surge buffering capacity of coastal wetlands and their resilience under sea-level rise.
Original languageEnglish
Article number7158
JournalNature Communications
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 7 Nov 2023


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