A large amount of vegetation in nature exists in the form of heterogeneous vegetation patches, and variations in vegetation characteristics significantly affect water flow structures. The objective of this study is to investigate the effect of alternating sparse and dense patches on turbulence characteristics. Multiple sets of heterogeneous vegetation scenarios were designed for numerical simulation analysis, and a comparison was made with homogeneous vegetation. Results indicate that compared with that of homogeneous vegetation, the arrangement of heterogeneous vegetation alters the distribution of flow velocities in the vegetation zone and the main channel, promoting material exchange between these regions. The vegetation density difference between sparse and dense vegetation patches in heterogeneous vegetation effect on the main channel increases with larger vegetation density differences, but the magnitude of the effect is limited and generally remains within 10% of the vegetation width. In the balance equation of turbulent kinetic energy, the terms are influenced differently by changes in vegetation density. As vegetation density difference increases, the convective term gradually increases, while the production and diffusion terms exhibit a “lower in the middle, higher at both ends” pattern. The dissipation term demonstrates a reduction effect at low-density differences, gradually increases with larger differences, and ultimately exhibits an amplification effect. Furthermore, this study determines that using data from mid-height to represent the entire cross section for heterogeneous vegetation may result in a maximum error of up to 11%.

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