Biogeomorphic feedback between plant growth and flooding causes alternative stable states in an experimental floodplain

Chen Wang, Qiao Wang, Dieter Meire, Wandong Ma, Chuanqing Wu, Zhen Meng, Johan Van de Koppel, Peter Troch, Ronny Verhoeven, Tom De Mulder, Stijn Temmerman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

19 Scopus citations


It is important to understand the mechanisms of vegetation establishment on bare substrate in a disturbance-driven ecosystem because of many valuable ecosystem services. This study tested for empirical indications of local alternative stable states controlled by biogeomorphic feedbacks using flume experiments with alfalfa: (1) single flood experiments different in flood intensity and plant growth, (2) long-term evolution experiments with repeated flooding and seeding. We observed: (1) a combination of thresholds in plant growth and flooding magnitude for upgrowing seedlings to survive; (2) bimodality in vegetation biomass after floods indicating the existence of two alternative states, either densely vegetated or bare; (3) facilitation of vegetation establishment by the spatial pattern formation of channels and sand bars. In conclusion, empirical indicators were demonstrated for local alternative stable states in a disturbance-driven ecosystem associated with biogeomorphic feedbacks, which could contribute to the protection and restoration of vegetation in such ecosystems.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)223-235
Number of pages13
JournalAdvances in Water Resources
StatePublished - Jul 1 2016
Externally publishedYes


  • Alternative stable state
  • Biogeomorphic feedback
  • Flooding
  • Floodplain
  • Flume experiment
  • Plant

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Water Science and Technology


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