E1) Floodplain vegetation patterns

Valesca Harezlak

"By combining fieldwork and modelling, we unravel the mechanisms that shape the distinct patterns in vegetation composition in floodplains of regulated rivers"

Practical motivation

Unlike the riparian vegetation of natural flowing rivers, the riparian vegetation of regulated rivers matures, if no measures are taken, to its climax succession stage. This climax stage is associated with high hydraulic roughness and low water storage capacity and hence, it may jeopardize water safety during high water discharges. To avoid such situations, various types of measures are taken, like clearing floodplain trees, floodplain excavation and grazing. However, the efficiency of those measures is not well understood. Moreover, other ecosystem services of floodplains are often overlooked. By combining fieldwork and modelling, this project aims at unraveling the mechanisms that shape the distinct patterns in vegetation composition in floodplains of regulated rivers. The knowledge gained could help optimizing different ecosystem services those types of floodplains have to offer.

Management phase: Evaluation & Adjustment |

Management goals: Maintenance Efficiency |

Schematic representation of the work. (Source: Valesca Harezlak)

Research aim

Increasing knowledge on how to influence floodplain processes to guarantee water safety, while accounting for other ecosystem services, supports cost-efficient floodplain management. Therefore, the aim of this research is:

  • To develop a process based, spatially explicit model that provides insight in dominant steering processes of floodplain vegetation development, and
  • To translate this vegetation development into multiple ecosystem services. To apply the model to a broad range of lowland rivers, the model set-up will be generic.

Temporal scale: Seasonal measurements |


  • Fieldwork is carried out in 3 Dutch floodplains (see study areas). A total of 30 1m2 non-woody plots were marked. During 3 growing seasons, the plots’ abiotic conditions, like soil moisture, soil nutrient and organic content are monitored, as well as the plots’ plants species and plant traits.
  • The process-based modelling approach is based on linear optimization of plant traits in relation to environmental conditions. Knowledge for model development stems from both fieldwork and literature.

Data-collection methods: Field survey measurements | Physical and laboratory experiments | Process-based modeling |

Main outputs and next steps

Alternating between field and model work has proven critical for the development of a useful model and for the collection of specific field data. Hence, so far results are about:

  • analyses of field data for furthering the understanding of the dominant processes steering vegetation development in Dutch floodplains and
  • model development to simulate vegetation development and concurrent ecosystem services in Dutch floodplains.

Study areas

Ijssel River (The Netherlands) | Waal River (The Netherlands)

Last modified: 17/06/2018

Contributing researchers

Valesca Harezlak

Supervisory team

dr. ir. Denie Augustijn


dr. Gertjan Geerling


prof. dr. Rob Leuven


prof. dr. Suzanne Hulscher


Contributing partners

Rijkswaterstaat Ministry of Infrastructure and Water Management

National Institute for Public Healthe and the Enviroment. Minsty of Health, Welfare and Sport.

ARCADIS Nederland BV

Bureau Waardenburg BV


Radboud University Nijmegen

University of Twente

Utrecht University

NWO Applied and Engineering Sciences


Rivercare floodplain


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Project group
Project E

Contact details

Valesca Harezlak

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