Riparian forests mitigate harmful ecological effects of agricultural diffuse pollution in medium-sized streams.

Research paper by Jarno J Turunen, Janne J Markkula, Maria M Rajakallio, Jukka J Aroviita

Indexed on: 04 Sep '18Published on: 04 Sep '18Published in: Science of the Total Environment


Agricultural pollution persists as a significant environmental problem for stream ecosystems. Uncultivated buffer zones or reforestation of riparian zones are advocated as a key management option that could compensate the harmful land use impacts. The effectiveness of riparian forests to protect ecological conditions of agricultural streams is yet inconclusive, particularly regarding the benefit of riparian buffers in streams suffering from uninterrupted agricultural diffuse pollution. We studied the effects of riparian land use on periphyton production and diatom, macrophyte and benthic macroinvertebrate communities in medium-sized agricultural streams by a) comparing 18 open field and forested agricultural stream reach pairs that only differed by the extent of riparian forest cover, and b) comparing the agricultural reaches to 15 near-natural streams. We found that periphyton abundance was higher in open reaches than in the forested reaches, but diatom community structure did not respond to the riparian forest cover. Macrophyte and macroinvertebrate communities were clearly affected by the riparian forest cover. Graminoids dominated in open reaches, whereas bryophytes were more abundant in forested reaches. Shredding invertebrates were more abundant in forested reaches compared to open reaches, but grazers did not differ between the reach types. Macrophyte trait composition and macroinvertebrate community difference between the reaches were positively related to the difference in riparian forest cover. The community structure of all three groups in the agricultural streams differed distinctly from the near-natural streams. However, only macrophyte communities in forested agricultural reaches showed resemblance to near-natural composition. Our results suggest that riparian forests provide ecological benefits that can partly compensate the impacts of agricultural diffuse pollution. However, community structure of forested agricultural reaches did not match the near-natural composition in any organism group indicating that catchment-scale management and mitigation of diffuse pollution need to be still advocated to achieve ecological goals in stream management and restoration. Copyright © 2018 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.