Riparian plant guilds become simpler and most likely fewer following flow regulation.
River regulation affects riparian systems world-wide and conservation and restoration efforts are essential to retain biodiversity, and the functioning and services of riverine ecosystems. Effects of regulation on plant species richness have been widely addressed, but the filtering effect of regulation on guilds has received less attention. We used a functional trait approach to identify adaptive plant strategies through regulation-tolerant traits and predict shifts of riparian vegetation communities in response to regulation. We analysed variation in functional diversity across gradients of hydrological alteration in northern Sweden in relation to modified timing and infrequent major floods, along with frequent short-term inundation. Functional richness was similar in all study sites, but species richness declined with increasing intensity of regulation, and the species lost were largely functionally redundant (i.e. co-existing species that have similar contribution to an ecosystem function). Guilds of species intolerant to waterlogging were particularly unsuccessful in most regulated sites as they were affected by hydropower dams which replace major fluvial disturbances with frequent short inundation events. We predict that this guild will disappear, with likely consequences for the entire riverine ecosystem. Synthesis and applications. We conclude that functional traits tolerant to waterlogging or submergence and lack of major fluvial disturbances were key to understanding our results. We suggest that the functional trait approach can be integrated with knowledge of other ecosystem components to provide an understanding of ecosystem function that can be used to guide fluvial ecosystem management.