Dykaar, B.B., and Parker J. Wigington, Jr. 2000. Floodplain formation and cottonwood colonization patterns on the Willamette River, Oregon, USA. Environmental Management 25(1):87-104.
Using a series of aerial photographs taken between 1936 and 1996, we trace coevolution of floodplain and riparian forest on the Willamette River. Within-channel barforms appear to be the predominant incipient floodplain landform and habitat for primary succession, interlinked development of bar(s) and erosion of near banks, filling of channels, and establishment and growth of cottonwoods and willows results in coalescence with older floodplain. Size and internal structure of riparian forest patches reflect evolution of underlying barforms or channel beds. Floodplain matures as the active channel migrates away by repetition of the bar formation and near-bank erosion process, or is progressively abandoned by infilling and/or construction with a bar. Other parts of the floodplain are recycled as eroding banks provide the coarse sediment and large woody debris to building bars split flow; channels lengthen as bars and islands join into large assemblages. Avulsion appears to cut new channels only short distances. Given the central role of bars and islands in building new floodplain habitat, we identify their area as a geomorphic indicator of river-floodplain integrity. We measure an 80% decline in bar and island area between 1910 and 1988 within a 22-km section. Dams, riprap, logging, and gravel mining may all be contributing to diminished bar formation rates. Removing obstacles to natural riparian forest creation mechanisms is necessary to regenerate the river-floodplain system and realize its productive potential.