Sensitivity of a meandering lowland river to intensive landscape management: Lateral migration rates before and after watershed-scale agricultural development

Bruce L. Rhoads*, Alison M. Anders, Poushalee Banerjee, David A. Grimley, Andrew Stumpf, Neal E. Blair

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


Agricultural development has transformed the vegetation cover of many landscapes around the world, thereby altering water and sediment fluxes to river systems. Past work in the upper midwestern United States, particularly in areas of moderate relief, has shown that increases in water and sediment fluxes associated with agricultural development have dramatically altered river dynamics. Less is known about how agriculture has affected river dynamics, particularly rates of lateral migration, in relatively low relief landscapes of the Midwest shaped by glaciation during the Wisconsin Episode. This research examines rates of lateral migration of a channel bend along a lowland meandering river in Illinois, USA before and after agricultural development. The rate of lateral migration prior to agricultural development is estimated through dating of carbonaceous material within lateral-accretion deposits underlying distinct meander scrolls. The rate of lateral migration after agricultural development is determined from analysis of changes in river-channel position determined from survey records, aerial imagery, and digital elevation data. Average rates of migration before and after agricultural development are similar, suggesting that agricultural development has not substantially affected rates of lateral migration of the river. Some accelerated movement occurred locally following agricultural development, but this movement cannot be definitively tied to landscape transformation. Possible factors responsible for the lack of sensitivity of the river system to agricultural development include high resistance of the cohesive, tree-lined riverbanks to erosion and the low bankfull stream power per unit area of the modern river. From a management perspective, the study highlights the importance of bank vegetation in maintaining channel stability in low-relief agricultural landscapes.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number100429
StatePublished - Mar 2024


  • Agriculture
  • Geomorphology
  • Lateral migration
  • Meandering river
  • Radiocarbon dating

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Global and Planetary Change
  • Ecology
  • Earth and Planetary Sciences (miscellaneous)


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