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Click on each section to find out about species found in riparian areas







Riparian areas are a common, green feature in grasslands along the edges of rivers, lakes, ponds and wetlands. This moist zone, between the wet aquatic area and the dry upland, has a rich array of plants and animals. They give protection to aquatic areas, acting as a windbreak above ground and as a filter below ground. They also provide valuable habitat and protection for a variety of animals.

Riparian areas vary in width from a patch of shrubs beside a small wetland to broad stands of black cottonwood along the larger rivers of the interior valleys. Black cottonwood and trembling aspen are the most common tree species in riparian areas; willows, red-osier dogwood, common snowberry, and Nootka rose are common shrubs; rushes and sedges are found on the water’s edge and a variety of flowering plants occur in the drier areas away from the water.

Riparian areas also vary in appearance. Shrubs and trees may be common in some while others have only sedges and grasses. It can sometimes be difficult to say where a wetland ends and a riparian area starts, particularly with shrubby and treed wetlands. Soils in riparian areas are not typically flooded or saturated with water for long periods of time, but the water table is close enough to the surface to support moisture-loving plants. As the ground rises away from the wetter areas, the vegetation changes to plants that can grow in drier conditions

Deciduous trees, shrubs, grasses and other moisture-loving plants, as well as the woody debris found in riparian areas, provide critical habitat and protective cover for nesting water birds. Although water birds spend the majority of their time on the water, many species nest in the riparian zone or in the upland, some more than 300 metres from the water’s edge. While some of these birds nest on the ground, others, such as Barrow’s Goldeneye, nest in tree cavities up to 20 metres above the ground.

Riparian areas are also important areas for many other mammals. Moose, Mule Deer and White-tailed Deer browse on the branch tips of the many shrubs; Beavers use trembling aspen for their lodges and as winter food; River Otters make their dens under the roots of trees or slabs of rock.

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Other communities in cross section

Aspen Stand



Open Grassland

Rocky Talus Slopes/Rock Outcrop

Open Coniferous Forest

Closed Coniferous Patch


Anna Roberts (riparian)