Riparian Buffering Functions

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This page was developed to organize increasing materials related to how the riparian zone at a watershed scale provides services such as water supply, and salmonid habitat.

"To buffer" is an verb. A "buffer" is a regulatory designation of an area were management is changed near a stream to reduce the potential negative impacts of proximate land uses like forestry, agriculture or residential development. On the other hand, "riparian functions" are those dynamics observed in historical systems (i.e. evolved over long periods of time, and to which biota are adapted) that support biota directly or indirectly--many of these functions involve environmental buffering. Buffering functions are varied and complex, and could be divided into two general groups:

Geomorphic and bioenergetic processes:

  • Habitat islands or corridors for species that depend on rivers and streams
  • Habitat corridors for terrestrial species (that otherwise have no habitat due to development)
  • Shading effects on microclimate and stream temperature
  • Organic litter inputs to stream ecosystems
  • Large wood and rootwad effects of stream structure

Biochemical and water quality processes:

  • Nutrient and sedimentparticles of clay, silt, sand, gravel, or cobble, transported by water, are called sediment. removal and sequestration (in soils and biomass, with harvest providing removal)
  • Denitrification (as a nitrogen removal pathway) particularly in anaerobic soils.
  • Pathogen removal (livestock and pet waste).
  • Toxin decomposition and sequestration (pesticides, transportation runoff?)


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