J. Alan Yeakley

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) in Environmental Sciences and Resources


Environmental Sciences and Resources

Physical Description

1 online resource (xi, 170 pages)


In urban riparian areas, vegetation composition may be affected by urban land use changes at both the stream reach and the watershed scale. Moreover, the mechanisms by which seeds disperse may be affected both by reduction in seed sources due to vegetation removal and by the urban stream syndrome that produces flashier hydrographs and incised channels. I hypothesized that vegetation communities with high cover of native and hydrophilic species would be found in watersheds with high forest cover, while more limited cover of these species would be found in highly developed watersheds. Additionally, to examine the dispersal mechanisms contributing to these patterns, I hypothesized that 1) more seeds would be deposited in riparian areas by water than by wind; 2) the number of seeds deposited by streams would decrease as watershed urbanization increased; and 3) seeds deposited in the most urbanized sites would be primarily from species with traits favoring deposition by water, including large seed size and presence of a dispersal appendage.

To investigate relationships between urban land cover types and riparian vegetation, I surveyed 30 randomly-selected riparian forests in the Portland-Vancouver metro area and related vegetation assemblages to watershed land cover. Vegetation was mapped to the nearest 1cm along three transects in each site. Land cover was characterized both within a 500m buffer around each site, and within the entire watershed. Relationships between land cover and vegetation assemblages were investigated using nonmetric multidimensional scaling and classification trees. To investigate the effect of watershed urbanization intensity on riparian seed deposition, I collected seeds deposited in nine riparian sites along a gradient of watershed total impervious area (TIA). I used a stratified-random approach to select sites. In each site, wind-deposited seeds were collected in funnel traps three times, and water-deposited seeds were collected in turf traps four times, over a 15-month period, spanning both wet and dry seasons.

Consistent with my first hypothesis, communities dominated by native understory species were found exclusively in watersheds that were at least 15% forested by evergreen canopy. These findings suggest that native understory communities can persist in urban areas if adequate surrounding forest cover is maintained. Regarding my second major hypothesis, significantly more seeds were deposited by water than by wind (p < 0.05; mean of 155 seeds per turf trap; mean of 30 seeds per funnel trap). For shrubs, for species primarily dispersed by animals, and for species under 15m tall, hydrochory significantly increased delivery to riparian areas over the background seed delivery rate measured in funnel traps. There was a significant reduction in the number of seeds deposited by streams as TIA increased (adjusted R² = 0.74; p < 0.01). Deposition of shade-tolerant seeds decreased significantly, while deposition of non-native seeds increased significantly (p < 0.05) with watershed TIA and with development within 500m from the site, likely due to alterations of seed source pools of these species.

Findings indicate that in an urban setting, small streams have the capacity to act as dispersal vectors, connecting fragmented populations that may otherwise be seedlimited. Riparian forests with diverse understory assemblages maintained by ongoing seed deposition may persist in urban areas with sufficient watershed forest, as well as with low development cover, in both the whole watershed and the near-stream area. Total seed deposition by streams, as well as deposition of shade-tolerant species, can be expected to decrease with increased watershed development. Results suggest that passive approaches to restoration of riparian forest understories in urban watersheds will only likely be successful with sufficiently high forest cover and with restricted development.

Available for download on Wednesday, July 10, 2019