Flooding and sedimentation are two of the dominant disturbances that influence tree species composition and succession in floodplain forests. The importance of these disturbances may be most notable during the germination and establishment phases of plant succession. Channelization of most alluvial systems in the southeastern United States has caused dramatic and systematic alterations to both hydrologic and sedimentation processes of floodplain systems. We determined the influence of these altered abiotic processes on the germination and growth of two common floodplain tree species: swamp chestnut oak (Quercus michauxii Nutt.) and overcup oak (Q. lyrata Walt.). Flood durations of 0 days, 15 days, and 30 days prior to germination was a factor in germination, but the effect varied by species. For instance, overcup oak, which has a higher tolerance to flooding than swamp chestnut oak, had higher germination rates in the flooded treatments (15-day x̄ = 78% and 30-day x̄ = 85%) compared to the non-flooded treatment (x̄ = 54%). In contrast, germination rates of swamp chestnut oak were negatively affected by the 30-day flood treatment. Sediment deposition rates of 2 cm of top soil, 2 cm of sand, and 8 cm of sand also affected germination, but were secondary to flood duration. The main effect of the sediment treatment in this experiment was a reduction in above-ground height of seedlings. Our study provides evidence for the importance of both flooding and sedimentation in determining tree species composition in floodplain systems, and that tolerance levels to such stressors vary by species.
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Vol. 27 • No. 3