Adaptive cycles of floodplain vegetation response to flooding and drying
Abstract. Flooding is a key driver of floodplain vegetation productivity. Adaptive cycles provide a model for examining the productivity of semi-arid floodplain vegetation in response to hydrology. We examined the response of vegetation productivity (measured as NDVI) through a hypothesised adaptive cycle to determine whether the cycle repeats over time and how it is affected by differently sized flood events. The area of floodplain inundation was associated with an adaptive cycle that repeated in four flood events through the following phases: wetting (exploitation phase), wet (conservation phase), drying (release phase) and dry (reorganisation phase). Vegetation productivity responses corresponded to these phases. The area and quality of floodplain vegetation productivity followed the hypothesised pattern of higher-quality vegetation vigour in the wetting and wet phases, lower vigour in the drying phase and lowest vigour in the dry phase. There were more transitions between NDVI classes in the wet phase, which was dominated by two-way transitions. Overall, the wetting, wet and drying phases were dominated by smaller-probability class changes, whereas in the dry phase, higher-probability class changes were more prominent. Although the four flood events exhibited an adaptive cycle the duration of the adaptive-cycle phases, and the nature of vegetation productivity response, differed with the character of the flood event. Vegetation response in two of the adaptive-cycle phases – the release and reorganisation phases – were as hypothesised, but in the exploitation and conservation phases, changes in vegetation productivity were more dynamic. The character of vegetation response through the adaptive cycle also indicates that semi-arid floodplain vegetation productivity is more vulnerable to changing state during the conservation and release phases and not during the exploitation and reorganisation phases as resilience theory suggests. Overall, the adaptive cycle represents a new model to improve our understanding of the complexity of change in semi-arid floodplain vegetation productivity through cycles of flooding and drying. Changes in vegetation productivity could initiate structural changes in floodplain vegetation communities, with commensurate influences on floodplain sediment dynamics.