Floodplain forests along free-flowing rivers. : A unique opportunity for restoration along the Common Meuse with the European black poplar as a keystone species.

Research output: Contribution to journalA2: Article in a journal with peer review, not included in A1


Over the last centuries, the natural river dynamics have been extensively modified by humans for flood protection, agriculture and plantation forests. This resulted in the loss of floodplain forests, the natural vegetation type on riverbanks in Western Europe. The re-establishment of natural river dynamics and the ecological restoration of riparian habitat types, including floodplain forests, is one of the key priorities in biodiversity conservation and climate change adaptation strategies. As a pioneer species, the European black poplar plays a key-role in the development of softwood forests. Unfortunately, the European black poplar is threatened, mainly because of the loss of its natural alluvial habitat and because of competition and introgression with exotic poplar species. Here, we report on the impact of exotic Populus taxa at the initial stages of softwood riparian forest development of the river Meuse on the Dutch-Belgian border almost two decades after reintroducing black poplar and after the re-establishment of the natural river dynamics. We evaluated the taxonomy of the poplar seedlings that spontaneously colonised the river banks of the Common Meuse and we determined the frequency of natural hybridization events between male cultivated poplars and the female native European black poplars in the study area by using a combination of diagnostic chloroplast and nuclear molecular markers. Almost two decades after reintroducing the European black poplar, the constitution of the seed and pollen pools changed in the study area in favour of reproduction of the native species and at the expense of the exotic poplar species. This study indicates that, although significant gene flow form exotic poplars is observed in European floodplains, restoration programmes of the native European black poplar can vigorously outcompete the exotic gene flows and strongly reduce the impact of exotic Populus taxa on the softwood riparian forest development.
Original languageDutch
Issue number1
Pages (from-to)4-11
Number of pages8
Publication statusPublished - Mar-2021

Thematic List 2020

  • Forest

Thematic list

  • Management

EWI Biomedical sciences

  • B003-ecology

Taxonomic list

  • poplar (Populus spp.)


  • ecosystem services
  • Habitats Directive

Geographic list

  • Benelux


  • restoration techniques
  • genetic technologies

Free keywords

  • hybridization, introgression


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