Riparian zones are those areas that surround water bodies in the watershed. They are composed of moist to saturated soils, water-loving plant species and their associated ecosystems. These ecosystems consist of complex interactions between the water, soil, microorganisms, plants and animals. Riparian zones may be found surrounding lakes, estuaries, creeks and streams and rivers. Wetlands as a whole may also be considered riparian zones. Riparian zones are important transition areas that connect the water with the land, and support a wide diversity of plant and animal life.
Riparian zones that border streams or rivers are sometimes called stream corridors. Stream corridors link the ecosystems through which the streams flow, by providing transportation pathways for wildlife, and facilitating nutrient transfer.
Why are riparian zones important?
Riparian zones link ecosystems within a landscape. Landscapes are composed of (often overlapping) patches of different types of vegetation, soil and available nutrients, moisture and light. Disturbances in the landscape, such as fire, pest outbreaks or even the death of a single tree, create these patches, which provide different types of habitat. This diversity of habitats is important, but so is connectivity between them. Riparian zones allow wildlife to travel between habitat “islands” by providing transportation corridors, and help to circulate nutrients between different ecosystems. Since riparian zones are wetter than the surrounding landscape, they also often resist destruction by fire, and recover more quickly. This helps the landscape as a whole to recover.