The effect of river damming on vegetation: is it always unfavourable? A case study from the River Tiber (Italy)

  • Simona Ceschin
  • Ilaria Tombolini
  • Silverio Abati
  • Vincenzo Zuccarello


River damming leads to strong hydromorphological alterations of the watercourse, consequently affecting river vegetation pattern. A multitemporal and spatial analysis of the dam effect on composition, structure and dynamic of the upstream vegetation was performed on Tiber River at Nazzano-dam (Rome). The main research questions were as follows: How does plant landscape vary over time and along the river? Where does the dam effect on vegetation end? How does naturalistic importance of the vegetation affected by damming change over time? Data collection was performed mapping the vegetation in aerial photos related to the period before (1944), during (1954) and after dam construction (1984, 2000). The plant landscape has significantly changed over time and along the river, particularly as a result of the dam construction (1953). The major vegetation changes have involved riparian forests and macrophytes. Dam effect on vegetation is evident up to 3 km, and gradually decreases along an attenuation zone for about another 3 km. Despite the fact that the damming has caused strong local hydromorphological modification of the river ecosystem transforming it into a sub-lacustrine habitat, it has also led to the formation of wetlands of considerable naturalistic importance. Indeed, in these man-made wetlands, optimal hydrological conditions have been created by favouring both the expansion of pre-existing riparian communities and the rooting of new aquatic communities, albeit typical of lacustrine ecosystems. Some of these plant communities have become an important food resource, refuge or nesting habitats for aquatic fauna, while others fall into category of Natura 2000 habitats. Therefore, river damming seems to have indirectly had a “favourable” effect for habitat conservation and local biodiversity.


Hydroelectric dam Habitats directive River vegetation Multitemporal-spatial analysis Land use change 



The authors are grateful to the staff of the Tiber-Farfa Natural Regional Reserve for their help during fieldwork and the director Dr. Umberto Pessolano of the “Museo del Fiume” at Nazzano, for providing useful historical documentation on site. They also thank Dr. Ilaria Mazzini for the linguistic review of this manuscript.


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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  • Simona Ceschin
    • 1
  • Ilaria Tombolini
    • 1
  • Silverio Abati
    • 1
  • Vincenzo Zuccarello
    • 2
  1. 1.Department of SciencesRoma Tre UniversityRomeItaly
  2. 2.Department of Sciences and Biological and Environmental TechnologySalento UniversityLecceItaly

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