Large wood and fluvial processes

A M Gurnell, H Piegay, F J Swanson, S V Gregory

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

497 Citations (Scopus)


1. Large wood forms an important component of woodland river ecosystems. The relationship between large wood and the physical characteristics of river systems varies greatly with changes in the tree species of the marginal woodland, the climatic and hydrological regime, the fluvial geomorphological setting and the river and woodland management context. 2. Research on large wood and fluvial processes over the last 25 years has focussed on three main themes: the effects of wood on flow hydraulics; on the transfer of mineral and organic sediment; and on the geomorphology of river channels. 3. Analogies between wood and mineral sediment transfer processes (supply, mobility and river characteristics that affect retention) are found useful as a framework for synthesising current knowledge on large wood in rivers. 4. An important property of wood is its size when scaled to the size of the river channel. 'Small' channels are defined as those whose width is less than the majority of wood pieces (e.g. width <median wood piece length). 'Medium' channels have widths greater than the size of most wood pieces (e.g. width <upper quartile wood piece length), and 'Large' channels are wider than the length of all of the wood pieces delivered to them. 5. A conceptual framework defined here for evaluating the storage and dynamics of wood in rivers ranks the relative importance of hydrological characteristics (flow regime, sediment transport regime), wood characteristics (piece size, buoyancy, morphological complexity) and geomorphological characteristics (channel width, geomorphological style) in 'Small', 'Medium' and 'Large' rivers. 6. Wood pieces are large in comparison with river size in 'small' rivers, therefore they tend to remain close to where they are delivered to the river and provide important structures in the stream, controlling rather than responding to the hydrological and sediment transfer characteristics of the river. 7. For 'Medium' rivers, the combination of wood length and form becomes critical to the stability of wood within the channel. Wood accumulations form as a result of smaller or more mobile wood pieces accumulating behind key pieces. Wood transport is governed mainly by the flow regime and the buoyancy of the wood. Even quite large wood pieces may require partial burial to give them stability, so enhancing the importance of the sediment transport regime. 8. Wood dynamics in 'Large' rivers vary with the geometry of the channel (slope and channel pattern), which controls the delivery, mobility and breakage of wood, and also the characteristics of the riparian zone, from where the greatest volume of wood is introduced. Wood retention depends on the channel pattern and the distribution of flow velocity. A large amount is stored at the channel margins. The greater the contact between the active channel and the forested floodplain and islands, the greater the quantity of wood that is stored.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)601 - 620
Number of pages20
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 2002


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