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Research article2020Peer reviewedOpen access

Assessing the Benefits of Forested Riparian Zones: A Qualitative Index of Riparian Integrity Is Positively Associated with Ecological Status in European Streams

Burdon, Francis J.; Ramberg, Ellinor; Sargac, Jasmina; Forio, Marie Anne Eurie; de Saeyer, Nancy; Mutinova, Petra Thea; Moe, Therese Fosholt; Pavelescu, Mihaela Oprina; Dinu, Valentin; Cazacu, Constantin; Witing, Felix; Kupilas, Benjamin; Grandin, Ulf; Volk, Martin; Risnoveanu, Geta; Goethals, Peter; Friberg, Nikolai; Johnson, Richard K.; McKie, Brendan G.


Developing a general, predictive understanding of ecological systems requires knowing how much structural and functional relationships can cross scales and contexts. Here, we introduce the CROSSLINK project that investigates the role of forested riparian buffers in modified European landscapes by measuring a wide range of ecosystem attributes in stream-riparian networks. CROSSLINK involves replicated field measurements in four case-study basins with varying levels of human development: Norway (Oslo Fjord), Sweden (Lake Malaren), Belgium (Zwalm River), and Romania (Arge River). Nested within these case-study basins include multiple, independent stream-site pairs with a forested riparian buffer and unbuffered section located upstream, as well as headwater and downstream sites to show cumulative land-use impacts. CROSSLINK applies existing and bespoke methods to describe habitat conditions, biodiversity, and ecosystem functioning in aquatic and terrestrial habitats. Here, we summarize the approaches used, detail protocols in supplementary materials, and explain how data is applied in an optimization framework to better manage tradeoffs in multifunctional landscapes. We then present results demonstrating the range of riparian conditions present in our case-study basins and how these environmental states influence stream ecological integrity with the commonly used macroinvertebrate Average Score Per Taxon (ASPT) index. We demonstrate that a qualitative index of riparian integrity can be positively associated with stream ecological status. This introduction to the CROSSLINK project shows the potential for our replicated study with its panoply of ecosystem attributes to help guide management decisions regarding the use of forested riparian buffers in human-impacted landscapes. This knowledge is highly relevant in a time of rapid environmental change where freshwater biodiversity is increasingly under pressure from a range of human impacts that include habitat loss, pollution, and climate change.


benthic invertebrates; land use; agriculture; urbanization; riparian management; riparian buffer; nature-based solutions; blue-green infrastructure; climate-change adaptation; protocols

Published in

2020, Volume: 12, number: 4, article number: 1178
Publisher: MDPI