Our objective was to detect environmental and disturbance factors that determine plant species composition in a downstream riverside floodplain of the Shinano River, where both natural flooding and artificial fire disturbances predominate. We classified the natural vegetation into five types by physiognomy, i.e., burnt field, intact (unburnt) field, early-successional forest, later-successional forest, and margin of channel. We deployed 14 transect belts containing 713 plots of 1 m × 1 m at these sites. In the plots, we determined plant occurrences and values of five environmental (soil moisture, soil texture, relative elevation above the river, horizontal distance from the river, and light conditions) and two disturbance factors (scouring of plants by flooding and fire). Plant species compositions and environmental and disturbance factors were different among the sites. Logistic regression analysis showed that burning stimulated the occurrences of herbaceous annuals and conversely constrained those of woody and fern species, suggesting that fire disturbance resets the succession. Scouring of plants by flooding also affected the occurrences of many species, and had a positive influence on that of herbaceous winter annuals in particular. Canonical correspondence analysis indicated that the distributional characteristics of the plant species in the riverside floodplain were influenced primarily by distance from the river, reflecting the magnitude of flood disturbance. We conclude that (1) magnitude of flood disturbance is the primary factor determining plant species composition, and (2) burning maintains early successional vegetation and simultaneously creates a unique plant species composition by stimulating the germination of buried viable seeds transported by flood.
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