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Review article - Peer-reviewed, 2019

Towards ecologically functional riparian zones: A meta-analysis to develop guidelines for protecting ecosystem functions and biodiversity in agricultural landscapes

Lind, Lovisa; Hasselquist, Eliza Maher; Laudon, Hjalmar


Riparian zones contribute with biodiversity and ecosystem functions of fundamental importance for regulating flow and nutrient transport in waterways. However, agricultural land-use and physical changes made to improve crop productivity and yield have resulted in modified hydrology and displaced natural vegetation. The modification to the hydrology and natural vegetation have affected the biodiversity and many ecosystem functions provided by riparian zones. Here we review the literature to provide state-of-the-art recommendations for riparian zones in agricultural landscapes. We analysed all available publications since 1984 that have quantified services provided by riparian zones and use this information to recommend minimum buffer widths. We also analysed publications that gave buffer width recommendations to sustain different groups of organisms. We found that drainage size matters for nutrient and sediment removal, but also that a 3 m wide buffer zone acts as a basic nutrient filter. However, to maintain a high floral diversity, a 24 m buffer zone is required, while a 144 m buffer is needed to preserve bird diversity. Based on the analysis, we developed the concept of "Ecologically Functional Riparian Zones" (ERZ) and provide a step-by-step framework that managers can use to balance agricultural needs and environmental protection of waterways from negative impacts. By applying ERZ in already existing agricultural areas, we can better meet small targets and move towards the long-term goal of achieving a more functional land management and better environmental status of waterways.


Agricultural; Buffer zone; Ecological functional riparian zones; Riparian zone; Vegetation; Water

Published in

Journal of Environmental Management
2019, Volume: 249, article number: 109391