Riparian zones include ponds, rivers, marshes, and other sources of water in a forest. Photo by Maya Walters
|Tropical rainforests are the most diverse habitats in the world, and areas surrounding rivers are the most diverse habitats in the rainforest. Rivers also have the power to change habitats and create new ones, by undercutting riverbanks, distributing silt downstream, by flooding surrounding areas. Swamps, marshes, ponds, and small streams are often formed around the edges of large rivers. The water and the moist habitats in the surrounding area are called riparian zones.|
Since riparian zones surround rivers, they form a
vast, branching network which winds its way throughout all forests. Where streams are abundant, this network is very dense, and covers
very large areas where rivers widen out into marshes and lakes. In other areas, there are fewer rivers and the riparian zone network is
Riparian zones serve as travel corridors for animals. Plants also use rivers as an efficient method of seed dispersal. Some types of trees grow only on the banks of rivers, and have specially developed seeds which fall to the water and float for great distances.
A tropical forest waterfall, surrounded by thick vegetation. Photo by Maya Walters
|Because these habitats are so moist, riparian zones often act as barriers for forest fires and protect the surrounding vegetation.|
Temperate forest wetlands. Photo courtesy Naomi Woods.
|Healthy forests must be connected in order for nutrients and living organisms to be distributed. Riparian zones are perfect connectors between different habitats. These corridors are used by mammals and birds as migration routes between seasonal habitats. Healthy stretches of forest between riparian zones are also necessary for animals and plants to migrate between areas that are farther apart. If any of these corridors are blocked or interrupted, animals, plants, and inorganic nutrients are prevented from moving through the forests.|
Very often, riparian zones contain the largest
trees, which are most attractive to logging companies. This is because the soil is exceptionally rich: riparian zones are usually at low
elevations, so nutrients wash downslope and downstream and collect in these areas. Plants grow very well in this rich, moist soil.
However, where there are fast-moving rivers, riparian zones are extremely susceptible to erosion, and once destroyed are very difficult
to replace. This makes them very unsuitable locations for logging. These areas are so important for wildlife habitat, plant distribution,
nutrient movement, and bird or mammal migration stops, that we can't afford to lose them to poor timber practices.
A stream through a tropical cloud forest. Photo courtesy Naomi Woods.
[tropical forests] [forest life] [seeds] [fire] [mammals] [birds] [plants]
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