In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Flood Ecology

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Books
  • Journals
  • Works before 2000
  • Works after 2000
  • Organismal Responses to Flooding
  • Flooding, Plant Physiology, and Competition
  • Flooding, Soils, Microbial Communities
  • Climate Change and Flooding
  • Flood Control
  • Effects of Flooding on Humans and Socioeconomic Conditions
  • Restoration, Climate Mitigation, and Adaptation

Ecology Flood Ecology
Shishir Paudel, Juan C. Benavides
  • LAST REVIEWED: 24 April 2023
  • LAST MODIFIED: 24 April 2023
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199830060-0244


Flooding is a condition in which the terrestrial surface, streams, rivers, lakes, and wetlands can no longer hold the discharge of water, and the excess water spreads out to the adjoining structures. Often such spreads bring ecological, environmental, economic, and societal destruction and disaster. Therefore flooding, as one of the major destructive natural disturbances in general, comes with a negative connotation. Although flooding can happen in a multitude of ways, from an ecological point of view, low to mild natural flooding (“regular flooding”) is a natural process in many terrestrial and transition zones (e.g., coastal transitions), provides several ecosystem services, and is an essential factor affecting the structure, function, and the health of coastal and riverine ecosystems, including floodplains. For instance, regular or predictable flooding is significant to maintaining healthy floodplain soils and vegetation that provide multiple resources to surrounding communities. However, the extent, intensity, direction, timing, and duration of flooding in a landscape would determine the ecological functions versus disaster. This article focuses on historical to recent literature on flooding ecology, types of flooding, and effects of flooding on different components of natural ecosystems. Because flooding ecology and its impact on agriculture and humanity deserve their separate bibliography, this bibliography deals only with the human and socioeconomic aspects of flooding.

General Overviews

Flooding can be seen as a useful tool and environmental filter to maintain wetland ecosystems and ecosystem functions (Keddy 2010). Flooding can also be seen as a natural hazard with significant but broad impacts resulting in the loss of natural ecosystems, manmade infrastructures, and human lives. Therefore, we acknowledge the societal effects of flood disasters around the globe. The information presented here, however, provides an overview of various types of flooding, aspects of flooding ecology, ecological impacts, and physical and biological processes that drive flooding. There have been studies on flooding ecology and its effects on biological entities: Butcher 1933 provides the biological consequences of flooding while studying the ecology of rivers in the United Kingdom. Hawes 1939 describes the seasonal variations in cave animals due to flooding and how flooding can act as an agent for species distribution and introduction. Cowardin, et al. 1979 outlines the significance of flooding regimes in wetlands, deepwater habitats, and forested wetlands. Van Der Valk 1981 examines wetland seed bank and freshwater marsh vegetation response to flooding and flood exposure. The edited volume Kozlowski 1984 provides a comprehensive overview of flooding ecology, its extent, cause, and impacts on soils and plant growth. Junk, et al. 1989 introduces the “flood pulse concept” to describe flooding effects on the existence and productivity of river floodplains of large tropical lowland rivers. Naiman, et al. 1988 puts a new dimension on flooding ecology by highlighting the beaver’s dams and the alternation of stream flow and flooding across boreal forest landscapes.

  • Butcher, R. W. 1933. Studies on the ecology of rivers: I. On the distribution of macrophytic vegetation in the rivers of Britain. Journal of Ecology 21:58–91.

    DOI: 10.2307/2255874

    Correlates the various factors (water depth, drainage, pH, flow regimes, pollution, etc.) influencing the distribution of macrophytic vegetation in both still and running water across British rivers.

  • Cowardin, L. M., V. Carter, F. C. Golet, and E. T. LaRoe. 1979. Classification of wetlands and deepwater habitats of the United States. Washington, DC: US Fish and Wildlife Service.

    Describes the significance of flooding regimes (e.g., timing, frequency, and intensity of flooding) and organisms’ responses to flooding for the zonation of ecological communities in wetlands and deepwater habitats, including aquatic bed, emergent wetland, scrub/shrub wetland, and forested wetlands. 131 pp.

  • Hawes, R. S. 1939. The flood factor in the ecology of caves. Journal of Animal Ecology 8:1–5.

    DOI: 10.2307/1248

    Describes seasonal variation in caves caused by flooding, especially animal introductions, colonization, distribution, and food supply to caves.

  • Junk, W. J., P. B. Bayley, and R. E. Sparks. 1989. The flood pulse concept in river-floodplain systems. In Proceedings of the International Large River Symposium, Honey Harbour, Canada. Vol. 106. Canadian Journal of Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences Special Publication. Edited by D. P. Dodge, 110–127. Honey Harbour, Canada.

    The seminal work brings the understanding of river floodplains and lotic ecology by introducing “the flood pulse concept” (FPC). Highlights the flood pulse concept, which is a major force determining the existence, productivity, and interactions of major biota in river floodplains of large tropical lowland rivers. Must-read paper.

  • Keddy, P. A. 2010. Wetland ecology: Principles and conservation. 2d ed. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Univ. Press.

    DOI: 10.1017/CBO9780511778179

    Provides some unity and coherence in the study of wetland ecology. It contains flooding materials throughout the book, especially in the first two chapters. While chapter 1 provides an overview of wetlands, the second chapter is dedicated entirely to flooding, including flooding and humans; flooding in rivers, lakes, ponds, wet depressions, and peatlands; and biological consequences of flooding. An important book to read and have on shelves.

  • Kozlowski, T. T. ed. 1984. Flooding and plant growth. Orlando, FL: Academic Press.

    Discusses the extent, cause, and impacts of flooding on herbaceous and woody plants and their responses to flooding stress. Describes physiological and morphological responses of plants to freshwater and saltwater flooding. A canon for a diverse group of plant scientists, agronomists, horticulturalists, meteorologists, and landscape architects.

  • Naiman, R. J., C. A. Johnston, and J. C. Kelley. 1988. Alteration of North American streams by beaver. BioScience 38:753–762.

    DOI: 10.2307/1310784

    Quantifies the response of boreal forest landscapes to beaver activity (i.e., dam creation and alteration in water flow and flooding), which alters stream channels, hydrology, and riparian zone, driving successional pathways by forming emergent marshes, bogs, and forested wetlands. Important article for understanding northern temperate and boreal riparian forest ecosystem dynamics altered by beaver disturbance.

  • Van Der Valk, A. G. 1981. Succession in wetlands: A Gleasonian approach. Ecology 62:688–696.

    DOI: 10.2307/1937737

    A foundational paper proposing a qualitative model of succession in freshwater wetlands representing North America and Africa, based on the life history features of species, including the wetland’s seed bank. Provides a framework for understanding and predicting the vegetation dynamics and management of wetlands impacted by flooding and re-flooding.

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