Tracing the scientific trajectory of riparian vegetation studies: Main topics, approaches and needs in a globally changing world

Simon Dufour, Patricia Maria Rodríguez-González, Marianne Laslier
Science of the Total Environment 2019 February 25, 653: 1168-1185
Riparian vegetation is a crucial component of fluvial systems and serves multiple socio-ecological functions. The objective of this review is to follow the scientific trajectory of studies of riparian vegetation throughout history and across regions and fields of knowledge. Such a synthesis is challenging because riparian vegetation is an open co-constructed socio-ecological system at the crossroads of the biosphere, hydrosphere, lithosphere, atmosphere and anthroposphere; thus, it exhibits a wide range of ecological patterns and functioning depending on climatic, morphological and land-use contexts. To address this, we used qualitative and quantitative approaches in our review of the scientific literature. From the scientific perspective, how riparian vegetation is studied has changed over time (e.g. development of modeling and geomatic approaches) and varies among fluvial systems and geographic areas (e.g. its relation to groundwater is usually studied more in Oceania and Asia than on other continents). This review revealed the lack of a single and well-identified scientific community that focuses on riparian vegetation. This is probably due to the nature of the subject, which includes diverse fields of knowledge and several applied issues: biodiversity, forestry, water quality, hydromorphology, restoration, ecology, etc. Some topics are actively regenerated (e.g. biogeomorphological approaches) and others are emerging, which reflects general trends in ecology (e.g. functional approaches). The literature review indicates that a substantial amount of knowledge already exists; therefore, a major priority of our study is to produce a clear and integrative understanding of riparian zone functioning to address the inherent complexity of these zones and remain valid across a wide diversity of geographical contexts. It is also essential to develop detailed analysis of the sociocultural dimension of riparian vegetation to understand the ecology of riparian zones and to improve riparian vegetation management according to local recommendations in order to maintain and improve its functions and services in the face of global changes.

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