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Keywords:

  • riparian restoration;
  • soil;
  • soil carbon;
  • soil nutrient

Abstract

Riparian zones provide critically important ecological functions, including the interception of nutrients and sediments before they enter waterways. Consequently, riparian zones, and the vegetation they support, are often considered as an important ‘final buffer’ between waterways and adjacent land. In agricultural ecosystems, riparian zones are therefore increasingly recognized as an important component of strategies aimed at minimizing the flow of nutrients and sediments into waterways. Accordingly, riparian zones are increasingly afforded protection and are targeted for restoration. Here we present results of a study in which we aimed to identify patterns of change in soil and vegetation properties in riparian zones, under different management regimes, adjacent to tributary streams in one of south-eastern Australia's main agricultural regions. We compared riparia that were heavily impacted by agricultural activities, were in remnant condition or had undergone some restoration activities and were thus in a transitional state. There was an increase in plant cover and soil C concentration between impacted through to remnant sites, with transitional sites intermediate, suggesting that improvements in soil conditions were becoming evident following restoration activities. In our assessment of soil physicochemical properties we investigated the relationships between riparian condition and soil properties, taking into account the influence of adjacent land use on these relationships. Importantly, the concentrations of NO3- and plant available P in riparian surface soils were more or less influenced by concentrations in the adjacent land depending upon riparian condition. This will, in turn, have consequences for nutrient inputs into streams. This study emphasizes that riparian zones need to be managed within their wider landscape context. Furthermore, the results of this study will inform efforts seeking to minimize impacts of agricultural activities on waterways, through the conservation and/or restoration of riparian ecosystems.