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Riverine landscapes: biodiversity patterns, disturbance regimes, and aquatic conservation

Author(s): J. V. Ward
Year Published: 1998

The term riverine landscape implies a holistic geomorphic perspective of the extensive interconnected series of biotopes and environmental gradients that, with their biotic communities, constitute fluvial systems. Natural disturbance regimes maintain multiple interactive pathways (connectivity) across the riverine landscape. Disturbance and environmental gradients, acting in concert, result in a positive feedback between connectivity and spatio-temporal heterogeneity that leads to the broadscale patterns and processes responsible for high levels of biodiversity. Anthropogenic impacts such as flow regulation, channelization, and bank stabilization, by (1) disrupting natural disturbance regimes, (2) truncating environmental gradients, and (3) severing interactive pathways, eliminate upstream-downstream linkages and isolate river channels from riparian/floodplain systems and contiguous groundwater aquifers. These alterations interfere with successional trajectories, habitat diversification, migratory pathways and other processes, thereby reducing biodiversity. Ecosystem management is necessary to maintain or restore biodiversity at a landscape scale. To be effective, conservation efforts should be based on a solid conceptual foundation and a holistic understanding of natural river ecosystems. Such background knowledge is necessary to re-establish environmental gradients, to reconnect interactive pathways, and to reconstitute some semblance of the natural dynamics responsible for high levels of biodiversity. The challenge for the future lies in protecting the ecological integrity and biodiversity of aquatic systems in the face of increasing pressures on our freshwater resources. This will require integrating sound scientific principles with management perspectives that recognize floodplains and groundwaters as integral components of rivers and that are based on sustaining, rather than suppressing, environmental heterogeneity.

Citation: Ward JV. 1998. Riverine landscapes: biodiversity patterns, disturbance regimes, and aquatic conservation. Biological Conservation 83(3): 269-278. https://doi.org/10.1016/S0006-3207(97)00083-9
Topic(s): Fire Effects, Ecological - Second Order, Soils, Vegetation, Water
Ecosystem(s): None
Document Type: Book or Chapter or Journal Article
NRFSN number: 18691
Record updated: Dec 3, 2018