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Research article2021Peer reviewedOpen access

Are riparian buffers surrounding forestry-impacted streams sufficient to meet key ecological objectives? A Swedish case study

Chellaiah, Darshanaa; Kuglerova, Lenka


In many national guidelines and policies regarding protection of freshwater systems from stressors associated with forestry, riparian buffer width is a commonly prescribed strategy, typically with no other refinements of protection measures. In Sweden, the Strategic Management Objectives (SMOs) were developed to ensure that riparian buffers that are left after harvesting sustain important ecosystem attributes in aquatic systems, referred to as objectives, namely shading, biodiversity, reduction of sedimentation, and provision of deadwood and food. However, little specification is given on threshold targets or how to manage riparian zones to effectively provide these objectives. In this paper, we evaluated whether existing riparian buffers of different widths along small, recently harvested (<8 years) streams were able to provide proxies of these targeted objectives, and further compared harvested streams to counterparts situated in mature unharvested production forests (reference) in northern and southern Sweden. The influence of buffer width varied with objective and geographic location. In both regions, canopy cover (proxy for shading) increased with riparian width, and riparian deadwood was highest in no buffer sites. Organic matter (OM; proxy for food) was highest in the northern no buffer streams, while in the south OM increased with buffer width. All other parameters tested had no relationship to buffer width. These differing responses even in streams subjected to similar land-use and management within a close vicinity and region, suggest that the contemporary strategy of prescribing fixed buffer widths and/or stating objectives without defined guidelines for what constitutes an effective riparian buffer is insufficient given the large variability of stream ecosystems across small spatial scales. More comprehensive consideration synergistically accounting for site-specificity and land mosaic planning are needed to develop functionally effective buffers that can mitigate forestry impacts on stream ecosystems.


Riparian buffers; Best management practices; Buffer width; Ecological function; Forestry; Headwaters

Published in

Forest Ecology and Management
2021, Volume: 499, article number: 119591
Publisher: ELSEVIER

      SLU Authors

    • Sustainable Development Goals

      Ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all
      Protect, restore and promote sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems, sustainably manage forests, combat desertification, and halt and reverse land degradation and halt biodiversity loss

      UKÄ Subject classification

      Forest Science

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