Hierarchical and branching river networks interact with dynamic watershed disturbances, such as fires, storms, and floods, to impose a spatial and temporal organization on the nonuniform distribution of riverine habitats, with consequences for biological diversity and productivity. Abrupt changes in water and sediment flux occur at channel confluences in river networks and trigger changes in channel and floodplain morphology. This observation, when taken in the context of a river network as a population of channels and their confluences, allows the development of testable predictions about how basin size, basin shape, drainage density, and network geometry interact to regulate the spatial distribution of physical diversity in channel and riparian attributes throughout a river basin. The spatial structure of river networks also regulates how stochastic watershed disturbances influence the morphology and ages of fluvial features found at confluences.
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