Structure, reproduction and flood-induced dynamics of riparian Tugai forests at the Tarim River in Xinjiang, NW China
AbstractTugai forests are the riparian forests along the rivers in the continental desert regions of Central Asia, i.e. the Tarim River, Amu Darya and Syr Darya. They mainly consist of Populus euphratica Oliv., Populus pruinosa Schrenk. and Elaeagnus oxycarpa Schltdl. As a consequence of land opening campaigns, large areas of Tugai forests were destroyed after the 1950s. Due to excessive use of water for irrigation, the remaining Tugai forests are under severe threat. Near natural Tugai forests still exist along the Tarim middle reaches in the Tarim Huyanglin Nature Reserve, Xinjiang, NW China. There is a gap in understanding, how the seedlings of P. euphratica establish as trees which continuously connect to the groundwater. Therefore, the set of conditions which must be met for germination and successful establishment, i.e. formation of Tugai forests, was investigated along a representative transect still under natural conditions. P. euphratica seedlings germinate in belts during the retreat of the summer flood on freshly deposited sites bare of other vegetation. Such germination sites are formed by river dynamics. While germination takes place regularly in the study area, successful establishment is restricted to few germination events. Seedlings face dropping groundwater levels during spring and early summer of the second year after germination. Therefore, for successful establishment, it is essential that the flood of the second year starts in time and is high enough, in order to replenish the groundwater. Furthermore, clayey soil layers in the subsoil may play a role for successful establishment, too, as they store water better than sandy soil layers.