Evolution of the morphology of the river Dragonia (SW Slovenia) due to land-use changes

S.D. Keesstra, J. van Huissteden, J. Vandenberghe, O. van Dam, J. de Gier, I.D. Pleizier

    Research output: Contribution to JournalArticleAcademicpeer-review


    The effects of increasing agricultural land use on fluvial morphology have received much attention in fluvial research. However, in several regions in Europe, a reversing trend of decreasing agricultural activity and land abandonment, followed by reforestation, is observed. The response of fluvial morphology deserves attention because of its large impacts on landscape and riverine habitats. With the help of geomorphological mapping, multi-date aerial photography and a range of dating techniques, we reconstructed the evolution of the morphology of the riverbed and the floodplain of the Dragonja river in southwestern Slovenia. The results of this study show that the fluvial morphology in this Mediterranean catchment has changed considerably as a result of shifts in agricultural land use, in particular large-scale land abandonment in the second half of the 20th century. Until the first half of the 19th century, floodplain aggradation prevailed. Probably around 1870, a large erosion event occurred from which the floodplain did not fully recover. A terrace standing 2.5 m above the present floodplain was formed. Natural reforestation, due to depopulation since World War II, caused a reduction in discharge and sediment supply to the river. The decreased intensity and frequency of floods allowed invasion of the riverbed by vegetation, causing narrowing and incision of the riverbed. This resulted in the formation of a terrace, which now stands 1.5 m above the present-day river. This terrace is about 60 years old. However, the largest increase in forest area occurred since 1975, which intensified this process of riverbed narrowing and incision, creating a local terrace at 0.5 m at 0.5 m above the presently meandering river.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)191-207
    Number of pages17
    Issue number1-4
    Early online date9 Mar 2005
    Publication statusPublished - Jul 2005


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