Environmental watering for vegetation diversity outcomes must account for local canopy conditions
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Hydrology is widely considered to be the dominant driver of understorey vegetation dynamics in arid and semiarid riparian ecosystems. Consequently, environmental watering is often a key approach to restoring and promoting riparian vegetation diversity. Few studies however have considered the role of local factors, for example, shading or litter accumulation, on vegetation responses to flow and how these may influence the outcomes of watering actions. Knowledge concerning modifying effects of local canopy factors on vegetation responses to watering is needed to guide environmental water planning (e.g., setting objectives and targets) and delivery (e.g., timing and duration of managed flows). We conducted a greenhouse experiment to investigate the effects of shade and litter, and their interaction, on plant communities establishing from riparian soil seed banks, collected from the northern Murray–Darling Basin, under a range of hydrological conditions. We found that shade had a positive influence on the abundance, diversity, and reproduction of establishing plant communities under dry conditions but a negative, or null effect, under wet conditions. Litter exerted strong negative effects on plant community metrics under all hydrological conditions. Some understorey species emerged as hardy generalists capable of establishment under a range of conditions whereas others had more specific requirements. Our results highlight the importance of canopy structure for riparian understorey vegetation diversity and dynamics at both local and landscape scales. Land and water management practices seeking to protect or restore vegetation diversity in these systems must therefore take such local factors into account when planning and evaluating interventions.
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Environmental Sciences not elsewhere classified