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Review article - Peer-reviewed, 2014

Towards optimizing riparian buffer zones: Ecological and biogeochemical implications for forest management

Kuglerová, Lenka; Ågren, Anneli; Jansson, Roland; Laudon, Hjalmar


Riparian forests (RFs) along streams and rivers in forested landscapes provide many ecosystem functions that are important for the biodiversity and biogeochemistry of both terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems. In riverine landscapes, many of these ecological and biogeochemical functions have been found to be maximized in riparian areas with discharge of upland-originating groundwater (GW). This ecological significance, and the fact that riparian areas with GW discharge are important sources of many chemical elements in streams and rivers, makes these places important hotspots in the landscape. The natural functioning of RFs is however threatened by poorly designed management practices, with forestry being one of the most important examples in timber producing regions. Logging operations in riparian, but also in adjoining upland forests, threaten to alter many riparian functions. This effect is accelerated in GW discharge hotspots because of their sensitive soils and the high connectivity with uphill areas. We thus argue that forestry practices should give higher consideration to riparian GW discharge areas, and we demonstrate how improved riparian buffer zone management can be incorporated into every-day forestry planning. We offer a practical tool for more optimized site-specific riparian buffer design by using model-derived high resolution maps with detailed information about wetness and soil-water flow paths within RFs. We describe how such site-specific riparian buffer management differs from fixed-width buffers, which are generally applied in today's forestry, and address some risks connected to fixed-width buffer management. We conclude that site-specific riparian management, allowing wider buffers at GW discharge areas and more narrow buffers on sites of lower ecological significance (i.e. riparian sites without GW flow paths), would benefit a variety of ecosystem services, mitigate negative-effects caused by forestry and create more variable and heterogeneous riparian corridors. Finally, we show examples of how the new forestry planning can be applied. (C) 2014 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.


Ecosystem functioning; Forestry management; Groundwater discharge; Wetness mapping; Riparian buffers; Riparian hotspots

Published in

Forest Ecology and Management
2014, Volume: 334, pages: 74-84
Publisher: Elsevier