Vegetation structure along urban ephemeral streams in southeastern Arizona

Amy M. Hutmacher, George N. Zaimes, Jonathan Martin, Douglas Green

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Scopus citations


Riparian areas in Arizona are being encroached upon by urban developments. This study investigated the impacts of different urban housing densities on riparian vegetation structure along ephemeral streams. Nine sites representing three levels of housing density were selected within the town of Marana, located in southeast Arizona. The housing densities were categorized as high (7-8 houses ha-1), moderate (2.5-4.5 houses ha-1), and low (< 1.5 houses ha-1). Each treatment had three replications. The urban developments were relatively young (less than 15 years). No significant differences were found among the treatments for the tree variables (density, height, mean canopy volume and total canopy volume) or the herbaceous vegetation variables (species richness, percentage of introduced species and percentage of ground cover). However, the shrub variables (mean density, mean height, mean canopy volume, total canopy volume and species richness) showed some significant differences. Shrub density and species richness was significantly greater adjacent to ephemeral channels than just three meters upland. In addition, whitethorn acacia shrubs were significantly taller and larger adjacent to the stream channels in the high and moderate housing density sites than in the low housing density sites. Creosote shrubs showed the opposite trend. Increased runoff in the more heavily urbanized streams may have promoted the growth of the facultative riparian species (whitethorn acacia) but not the non-riparian species (creosote). Overall, in these young developments, vegetation was resilient across the levels of urbanization explored in the study.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)349-368
Number of pages20
JournalUrban Ecosystems
Issue number1
StatePublished - Mar 2014


  • Desert ecosystems
  • Ephemeral stream
  • Riparian areas
  • Urbanization
  • Vegetation species
  • Vegetation structure

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology
  • Urban Studies


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