Riparian Ecology and Function

An open space in the forest with a view of a narrow creek going into the mountains

What are the functions of riparian areas?

Although riparian areas provide similar functions for flowing (streams/rivers) and non-flowing (lakes/wetlands) systems, there are some differences:

Stream and RiversLakes and Wetlands
trap sedimenttrap and store sediments; prevent re-suspension of sediments
build and maintain banksbuild and maintain shorelines and banks
reduce flood damagereduce damage from high water levels and wave action
store water, especially flood waterstore water, especially flood and spring runoff water; act as a surface reservoir
extend perennial flows or levels by recharging underground aquifersextend seasonal or long-term levels by recharging underground aquifers
dissipate flow and ice energydissipate wave and ice energy
high primary production, including forage and shelter valueshigh primary production, including forage and shelter values
maintain or improve water qualitymaintain or improve water quality
filter and buffer water, both from over-land flow (runoff) and water from within the channelfilter and buffer water, both from over-land flow (runoff) and water from within the basin
maintain biodiversity¹maintain biodiversity¹
trap nutrients and sediments to balance nutrient cycling, in-filling and primary production

¹biodiversity: The variety of life in all its forms, levels and combinations. Includes ecosystem diversity, species diversity, and genetic diversity (IUCN, UNEP and WWF, 1991).

Please refer to Caring for the Green Zone editions Riparian Areas and Grazing Management or Riparian Areas: A User’s Guide to Health to learn more about the functions of riparian areas.

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Oil painting of an aerial view of a riparian area