Riparian vegetation and island formation along the gravel-bed Fiume Tagliamento, Italy

Angela Gurnell, Geoffrey Petts, David Hannah, BPG Smith, PJ Edwards, J Kollmann, JV Ward, K Tockner

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

319 Citations (Scopus)


After more than 300 years of river management, scientific knowledge of European river systems has evolved with limited empirical knowledge of truly natural systems. In particular, little is known of the mechanisms supporting the evolution and maintenance of islands and secondary channels. The dynamic, gravel-bed Flume Tagliamento, Italy, provides an opportunity to acquire baseline data from a river where the level of direct engineering intervention along the main stem is remarkably small. Against a background of a strong alpine to mediterranean climatic and hydrological gradient, this paper explores relationships between topography, sediment and vegetation at eight sites along the active zone of the Tagliamento. A conceptual model of island development is proposed which integrates the interactions between large woody debris and vegetation, geomorphic features, sediment calibre and hydrological regime. Islands may develop on bare gravel sites or be dissected from the floodplain by channel avulsion. Depositional and erosional processes result in different island types and developmental stages. Differences in the apparent trajectories of island development are identified for each of the eight study sites along the river. The management implications of the model and associated observations of the role of riparian vegetation in island development are considered. In particular, the potential impacts of woody debris removal, riparian tree management, regulation of river flow and sediment regimes, and changes in riparian tree species' distribution are discussed. Copyright (C) 2001 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)31-62
Number of pages32
JournalEarth Surface Processes and Landforms
Issue number1
Early online date1 Jan 2001
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2001


  • gravel-bed river
  • wood debris
  • riparian woodland
  • island formation


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