Changes in riparian plant communities due to a canal barrier traversing ephemeral stream channels in the Sonoran Desert

Abeer Hamdan, Juliet Stromberg

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

4 Scopus citations


The Central Arizona Project (CAP) is a large canal system that traverses hundreds of ephemeral stream channels in the Sonoran Desert. This longitudinal barrier alters flow during runoff events, causing water to pond behind the canal's wall. We asked: How has riparian vegetation of the ephemeral streams changed over the course of 35 years in response to canal construction? We compared field data (vegetation volume, woody plant stem density and size, and herbaceous cover) collected in distinct zones located upstream and downstream of the canal to unaltered controls. By ponding water and inducing sedimentation of fine particles, the canal has created areas that support dense vegetation. The wettest zone has the greatest vegetation volume and plant height, and supports densities of Prosopis velutina that are six times greater than in the control zone. Larrea tridentata and other desert shrubs are displaced to the border of the wettest zone, but have greater height and stem diameter than typically occur in the desert owing to increased frequency of soil wetting in the canal-associated anthropogenic-floodplain. This research aids in understanding the impacts of canal barriers on desert riparian vegetation, and can be used to predict future outcomes of proposed canals in desert environments.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1-7
Number of pages7
JournalJournal of Arid Environments
Publication statusPublished - Feb 1 2016



  • Anthropogenic
  • Canal
  • Ecologic barrier
  • Ephemeral stream
  • Riparian vegetation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Earth-Surface Processes
  • Ecology

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