, Volume 640, Issue 1, pp 115–124 | Cite as

Our current understanding of the Upper Mississippi River System floodplain forest



The silver maple-American elm floodplain forest spans throughout the floodplains of the Upper Mississippi River System (UMRS). These forests of the UMRS today are less diverse than those of pre-European expansion (ca. early 1800s). Scientists and land managers are concerned about loss of species diversity including mast species such as pin oak (Quercus palustris Muenchh.), swamp white oak (Quercus bicolor Willd.), bur oak (Quercus macrocarpa Michx. Q), pecan (Carya illinoinensis (Wangenh.) K. Koch), and other hickories. The Great Midwest Flood of 1993 maintained species diversity in the lower, unimpounded region of the Upper Mississippi River, providing an opportunity for eastern cottonwood and black willow to regenerate in this portion of the Mississippi River. However, throughout the entire region, floodplain forests of the Upper Mississippi River have become less diverse, and have become dominated by the flood-tolerant and shade-tolerant silver maple (Acer saccharinum L.). The imminent loss of green ash (Fraxinus pennsylvanica Marsh.) to the Emerald Ash Borer (Agrilus planipennis Fairmaire) follows an already changing forest structure due to a disease-related shift of American elm (Ulmus americana L.) from the overstory to the midstory strata. Another invasive, reed canary grass (Phalaris arundinaceae L.), interferes with evolved mechanisms for establishment as it outcompetes trees of the early successional floodplain forest. Further research is needed to create and maintain diverse floodplain forest communities that have been lost under current conditions. Returning flood-prone agricultural lands within the floodplain to the floodplain forest will improve the health and connectivity of the river system, increase the diversity of habitats, and provide flood relief for communities of the Upper Mississippi River.


Upper Mississippi River Illinois River Floodplain forest Acer saccharinum 



I would like to thank Jim Zaczek, David Gibson, Loretta Battaglia, Dale Vitt, John Phelps, and Karl Williard, Southern Illinois University-Carbondale, and Yao Yin, University of Tennessee, for their input and review of earlier versions of this article. The author would also like to thank the peer reviewers for their comments and recommendations.


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Institute for Environmental Studies, Departments of Biological Sciences and GeographyWestern Illinois University-Quad CitiesMolineUSA

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