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“Livewood”: Geomorphic and Ecological Functions of Living Trees in River Channels

Although the geomorphic and ecological importance of large wood in streams and rivers is well recognized, most studies consider only dead wood in channels. However, we have observed that living parts of trees are often found within active channels and that this livewood shares functions with both instream dead wood and live riparian trees, while also providing some functions unique to living woody material within a channel. We describe the mechanisms that produce livewood and illustrate its characteristics and influences on riparian and stream ecosystems with examples from Europe, North America, and New Zealand. We hypothesize that, compared with dead wood in channels, livewood (a) persists longer because of greater stability and greater resistance to decay, and (b) imparts greater structural complexity (with associated hydraulic roughness and retentiveness). The phenomenon of livewood implies that a broader range of tree species and sizes, than previously considered, may contribute functionally important wood to channels. We encourage the study of livewood in a range of forest-stream ecosystems to test our hypotheses and further our understanding of how forests interact with rivers and streams.

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