Riparian reference condition: Using regional plant composition to guide functional improvements in the City of Austin

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Duncan, Alex
Wagner, Staryn
Scoggins, Mateo
Richter, Aaron

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City of Austin Watershed Protection Department


As a result of an expanding and rapidly urbanizing metropolitan area, the riparian vegetation communities of Austin-area streams continue to diverge further from their natural state. In an effort to maintain the ecological function and the natural character of Austin watersheds, the City of Austin Watershed Protection Department has identified a need to characterize an archetype, or background condition of Edwards Plateau and Blackland Prairie riparian communities for use as a template for both benchmarking and target for stream restoration projects. Species composition, spatial arrangement and physical attributes of vegetation communities for 12 sites located in both smaller and larger watersheds were characterized using multiple belt-transects. Multivariate analyses including detrended correspondence analysis (DCA), analysis of similarity (ANOSIM), and similarity percentage (SIMPER) were performed by Community Analysis Package software (Seaby and Henderson 2007). Results show that there was a significant difference in plant community composition in all compared drainage areas and ecoregions for both ground cover and overstory communities (p<0.05). The analysis of similarity showed that the samples should be grouped by ecoregion and location within the watershed for overstory and ground cover communities. Recommended vegetation templates are presented as a guide for comparison to other riparian communities in the Austin area, and also a reference point for restoration of degraded systems. These quantitative species distribution lists are an important resource for riparian ecologists in this region.


This technical report focuses on ways to restore riparian habitat within specific Austin creeks. This study is designed to serve as a template for restoration efforts with other urbanized creeks (Waller).

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