What is Riparian Zone?
A riparian zone or a riparian area is the interface between land and a river or stream. Riparian is also the correct nomenclature for one of the terrestrial biomes on earth. Plant habitats and communities along the river margins and banks are called riparian vegetation, which is characterized by hydrophilic plants.
The riparian zone is one of many different biomes that represent different communities of flora and fauna. Other biomes include savannas, tropical rainforests, and deserts. The riparian zone is identified as the area immediately adjacent to flowing freshwater.
This can be anything from a small trickling stream to a raging river. The plant and animal communities that tend to occupy these regions are similar on all continents, although they may not be related to one another.
The riparian zone is an important biome in the water cycle and in many independent nutrient cycles. The plants and animals in the shore zone help filter the water as it passes and improve the water quality downstream.
Many conservation projects focus on the protection or repair of riparian zones, which has the potential to strongly influence all communities that receive water and nutrients after a riparian zone. Given that all of the world’s fresh water flows through one river or another, the riparian zone is an important and significant biome in ecology.
The riparian zone is named after the Latin “Ripa”, which means riverbank. While the riparian zone doesn’t just include rivers, this is a great way to remember the general flora and fauna that inhabit the region.
Riparian Zone Characteristics
The riparian zone is characterized both by its proximity to the water and by the presence of plants and animals. In terms of location, the riparian zone always borders directly on a moving body of water such as a stream, a river, or an estuary.
Depending on the latitude of the river, the riparian zone may decrease as the temperature gets colder. Since plants cannot grow in the highest latitudes, rivers have little or no riparian zone here. At the other end of the spectrum, tropical rainforests have no distinguishable riparian zones because the forest is right on the banks of most rivers.
The riparian zone is most commonly observed in temperate regions with seasons when the extra water from the stream or river causes large trees and shrubs to grow along the shoreline.
The riparian zone is common along rivers in the plains and savannah biomes that do not receive enough water from rainfall to allow large trees to grow. Here the riparian zone stands out and is easy to recognize from the surrounding biome.
Flora and Fauna
Along rivers and streams, animals and plants that are hydrophilic or love all the water, they can get. This does not apply to all plants as many plants would drown if exposed to the intense amount of water on the river edge. However, many plants and animals have evolved for this situation.
Large trees such as oak, cottonwoods, ash, and willow are major members of the riparian zone. These trees provide shelter and rich soil under which smaller shrubs and vegetation can grow.
While the trees limit the amount of light that can reach the stream, they also isolate the stream from the warming effects of direct sunlight. This increases the biodiversity within the stream and allows many opportunistic feeders to get to the biome.
Animals such as otters and muskrats love the abundance of the riparian zone and protection from larger predators such as wolves and pumas. Other animals include frogs, lizards, and snakes, all of which are attracted to the water and the abundance of prey. Many waterbird species live in riverside areas, including birds such as ducks and dippers.
Riparian Zone and Conservation
Since the riparian zone filters and purifies the water we use and drink, they are important targets for environmental protection efforts. When a riparian zone is destroyed by human activities such as construction, it has a negative impact on all downstream biomes.
The soil is being lost through sedimentation and the land is being eroded. In addition, agricultural runoffs and other toxins filtered from the shore zone end up in the reservoirs and the ocean. Here they can become harmful to the people who also consume the water and the biomes.
Further, the loss of the riparian zone also removes the shadow that exists over the stream. Most species are exposed to direct sunlight and the associated temperature changes and have to move.
This can decimate the biodiversity in a river or stream section. The action will also kill the smaller plants under the trees as these were also based on the balance of sun and shade that the trees provided.
Without these plants, the stream can flow faster. This increases the likelihood of flooding, which would be more devastating even without the large roots of the plants resisting the flow of water.
However, an effective restoration of the riparian zone has been demonstrated. In a few years, areas that have been decimated by human activities can become flourishing ecosystems again. Often, riparian zones are intentionally created in areas that need better drainage and better protection from the erosive effects of running water.
To do this, scientists transplant species into the area and let them take root. Once these plants are established, the succession process takes over and the community will naturally develop. It’s almost like a domino effect. After the first plants begin to change the environment, they make it easier for other plants and animals to repopulate the area.
The riparian zone is important not only from a human point of view, but also for the conservation of other species. The zone serves as an important wildlife corridor through which species can pass without interacting with humans.
In most cases, the continuous corridor of trees and vegetation continues for many kilometers. These corridors are necessary to maintain the genetic pool present in different animal species. If the corridors are lost, these animals cannot cross and the population is broken.