Riparian areas represent less than 2 percent of all terrestrial ecosystems, but they are functionally on of the most important features within natural landscapes. They are characterized by high biotic production and diversity; they moderate flood intensity and store water; and they maintain high water quality by acting as nutrient and sediment sinks. These ecological functions make them valuable areas for a variety of human uses including agriculture, timber and livestock production, recreation, and housing. Human use, however, has resulted in severe degradation of the functional health of many riparian ecosystems. Recognition of the value of the systems and the magnitude of existing and continuing degradation has generated a concerted effort by natural resources managers and researchers to develop strategies to protect and restore riparian areas. Issues requiring particular attention are (1) development of a generally accepted definition of riparian ecosystems, (2) development of a functionally useful classification scheme of riparian areas, (3) quantification of the specific ways that human use causes ecological dysfunction, (4) collection of data from which we can objectively prioritize efforts to preserve extant systems, and (5) development of ecologically sound strategies for the restoration of degraded areas.
Hawkins, Charles P.
"What are riparian ecosystems and why are we worried about them,"
Natural Resources and Environmental Issues: Vol. 1
, Article 2.
Available at: http://digitalcommons.usu.edu/nrei/vol1/iss1/2