Latitudinal and Altitudinal Gradients of Riverine Landscapes in Andean Rivers
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Exact knowledge of the physical structures of different river sections that govern their ecological structure and function is essential for the efficient conservation and management of riverine ecosystems. Eleven Andean river basins (Maipo, Rapel, Mataquito, Maule, Itata, Biobío, Toltén, Valdivia, Bueno and Puelo) comprise large scale latitudinal and altitudinal gradients and accommodate 71% of the Chilean population that strongly depend on their ecosystem services. Here, based on 16 hydrogeomorphic variables (on basin, valley and channel scales), we assessed the riverine landscapes (Functional Process Zones; FPZs) of these river basins using a top-down multivariate statistical approach. Two steep valley and downstream slope FPZs, three sinuous FPZs and two braided FPZs emerged in 8906 river sections. The proportion of the occurrence of FPZs was characterised by a clear latitudinal pattern which is strongly related to the proportions of each river basin within the large morphostructural units of Chile. As such, the proportion of each river basin within the Andes Cordillera, Central Valley and Coastal Cordillera is a strong driver of the fluvial geomorphology and, thus, of the FPZs’ arrangement in each river network. FPZ classification captured geomorphic diversity that coincided with the latitudinal and altitudinal gradients of Chilean Andean river basins strongly related to the hydrological characteristics of the assessed river basins and large scale spatial distribution of fish fauna endemism. As such, the identified large geomorphic units (FPZs) that are strongly tied up with hydrology and ecology hierarchies of riverine landscape provide robust operational tools that can be instrumental for river ecosystem monitoring and management at a basin scale.