Responses of a fringing Cyperus papyrus L. swamp to changes in water level

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Over a 9-year period (1993–2001), the land-water width of a papyrus fringe on the southern shore of Lake Naivasha, Kenya, varied between 40 and 60 m. Increases in width via rhizome spreading into open water followed the 1997/1998 El Niño flood when water depths rose by about 2 m. Germination of papyrus seeds also responded to water depth with a mean ± S.E. rate in experiments of 23 ± 6% after 21 days when water level was 5 cm below the sediment surface. No germination occurred when sediment was flooded or allowed to desiccate. Rhizome spreading from floating mats appeared to be favoured by deep water with seedling spread favoured on newly inundated, low-gradient slopes in shallow water. Although natural regenerative capacity was influenced by water depth, the height, density, biomass and chemical content of papyrus were not. Total average biomass along a land-water transect was 6950 ± 860 g m−2 which was large in relation to nutrient and mineral contents. Culms contained 0.47 ± 0.14% N and 0.06 ± 0.05% P and rhizomes 0.71 ± 0.21% and 0.10 ± 0.06%. Sediment underlying the swamp was aerobic and there were small land-water gradients in the BOD of swamp water and sediment. However, chemical gradients were weak compared with wider papyrus swamps elsewhere. Lake and swamp water mixed in the narrow fringe studied and residence times for organic matter may not have been long enough for organic material to mineralise before entering lake water.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)85-92
Number of pages8
JournalAquatic Botany
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2006


  • African wetland
  • Lake Naivasha
  • Tropical swamp
  • El Niño
  • Ecotone

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