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Vegetation of riprapped revetments along the freshwater tidal Hudson River, New York

David L. Strayer1, Erik Kiviat2, Stuart E.G. Findlay1, and Nancy Slowik2
1

Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies, P.O. Box AB, Millbrook, NY 12545; 2Hudsonia Ltd., P.O.

Box 5000, Annandale, NY 12504
Summary. Riprapped revetments (sloping shorelines covered with large rocks to resist erosion)
are commonly used as shore defenses along the Hudson River, New York, and along lakes,
rivers, estuaries, and the ocean around the world. Despite their widespread use, little is known
about the ecology of these structures. We studied the amount and kinds of plants growing on
riprapped revetments along the freshwater tidal Hudson River. Such plants can provide habitat
for animals, food for plant-eating mammals, birds, and insects, perching sites for birds, basking
sites for turtles, and nectar and pollen for bees and butterflies; help to prevent erosion from
waves, wakes, and currents during floods; prevent flood debris from accumulating on the land
behind the revetment; and keep harmful pollutants from running into the water.
The amount and kinds of plants varied greatly across the 21 study sites, from sites with almost no
plants to sites densely covered with plants. The plant community was split about equally between
native and nonnative species, and vines (like Virginia creeper and wild grapes) were especially
common. The amount and kind of plants were related to the age, slope, particle size, and
roughness of revetments, as well as exposure of the site to waves, wakes, and ice. Local
management practices (like cutting) also were important. The ecological benefits provided by
revetment vegetation vary enormously from site to site along the Hudson. These benefits could
be enhanced by deliberate design and management, including building revetments with gentle
slopes and fine sediments between the boulders, adding patches of fine sediments to existing
revetments, planting desirable species, protecting young plants, or removing undesirable species.