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Vegetation and vegetation dynamics in the Tarim River floodplain of continental-arid Xinjiang, NW China

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Under the extreme continental-arid climate of Central Asia, vegetation is concentrated along the river systems, where groundwater is available throughout the year. This so-called Tugai vegetation provides an important habitat for plant and animal life and harbours the highest biodiversity in these regions. In our study, we focus on the Tarim River floodplain where the Tugai vegetation strongly declined since the 1950ies due to non-sustainable land-use and over-exploitation of water resources. We investigate the remnants of natural Tugai vegetation along the middle reaches of the Tarim River, where we still can find natural river dynamics. We follow the hypothesis that the groundwater depth and the salinization of the groundwater are the major factors, which influence the differentiation of the plant communities. The most frequent species in the 11 plant communities of the Tugai vegetation in the Tarim River floodplain are Populus euphratica, Tamarix ramosissima, and Phragmites australis. Most of the plant communities are located not more than 1 km away from the river courses or lakes and on sites with a groundwater level not deeper than 4 m. With increasing groundwater depth, the mean species numbers decreases. Recruitment of most of the species is limited to sites, which are flooded or inundated, respectively. Due to river course changes in the past decades, sites change from flooded to dry with groundwater levels deeper than 10 m and increasing soil salt content. Based on information on the spatial distribution of the plant communities and the river dynamics in the past decades, a succession scheme is worked out. During succession, which is driven by river dynamics, more and more species disappear according to their ability to grow deep roots in order to maintain groundwater contact and their ability to withstand increasing salt contents.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 2008-03-01

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  • Phytocoenologia (ISSN 0340-269X) is an international, peer-reviewed journal of plant community ecology. It is devoted to vegetation survey and classification at any organizational and spatial scale and without restriction to certain methodological approaches. The journal publishes original papers that develop new vegetation typologies as well as applied studies that use such typologies, for example, in vegetation mapping, ecosystem modelling, nature conservation, land use management or monitoring. Particularly encouraged are methodological studies that design and compare tools for vegetation classification and mapping, such as algorithms, databases and nomenclatural principles. Papers dealing with conceptual and theoretical bases of vegetation survey and classification are also welcome. While large-scale studies are preferred, regional studies will be considered when filling important knowledge gaps or presenting new methods.

    Phytocoenologia was founded by Reinhold Tüxen in 1973 and is published in collaboration with the International Association for Vegetation Science (IAVS; The journal closely cooperates with various subgroups of IAVS and serves as publication outlet for their workshops as well as for selected sessions of the IAVS Symposia. It contains special sections on “Phytosociological Nomenclature” and “Ecoinformatics”. Guest-edited Special Features that fall within the scope of the journal are also published.

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