Riparia: Ecology, Conservation, and Management of Streamside Communities. Robert J. Naiman, Henri Décamps, and Michael E. McClain. Elsevier, Burlington, MA, 2005. 448 pp., illus. $79.95 (ISBN 0126633150 cloth).
Riparia: Ecology, Conservation, and Management of Streamside Communities is an impressive synthesis of the international literature investigating the science and conservation of streamside zones. Riparia, the new term offered in the title, is effectively synonymous with “riparian zones.” The Latin ripa, from which “riparian” derives, refers to riverbanks, and in biology, riparia provides the species designation for riverbank organisms such as the bank swallow (Riparia riparia). The new term is obviously very useful, and it is likely to be widely adopted.
Riparia (the book) extends the insightful collaboration of Robert Naiman of the University of Washington and Henri Décamps of the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique in Toulouse, France. The pair produced the excellent article on riparian zones for the Annual Review of Ecology and Systematics, in which they describe the zones as biologically rich interfaces between aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems (Naiman and Décamps 1997). Now joined by Michael McClain from Miami's Florida International University, the authors have vastly expanded their analyses of riparian form and function. In the 15 years since the book project began, this field of research has exploded as the value and vulnerability, as well as the scientific intrigue, of riparia have become better appreciated. A comparison of Riparia with Malanson's 1993 monograph Riparian Landscapes, the former standard in the field, confirms the vigor of recent research: Nearly all of the literature cited in Riparia was published after 1993.
Suitable, even essential, for both academics and practitioners involved in river and riparian science and management, Riparia is also appropriate for advanced undergraduate and graduate students. The book's structure makes it ideal for use both as a course text and as a resource for scientists who study river ecosystems. Its content is organized by concept and process, not by specific riparian component (e.g., biological organisms). Thus, each chapter relates an interesting story about riparian processes relative to contemporary themes of ecosystem function, which should make the book appealing to a broad audience.
The introduction to Riparia emphasizes context and rationale, and it closes with an interesting and somewhat contrarian listing of riparian functions. The next three chapters profile the relevant principles of fluvial geomorphology, the resultant patterns in river and bank form, and the subsequent effects of those patterns, such as the zonation of riparian vegetation. Although some topics, such as river hydrology, get only cursory treatment, these chapters provide valuable insights into the physical processes and spatial structure associated with flood-plain systems. This strategy seems appropriate, given that several excellent, accessible texts describing river hydrology and fluvial geomorphology have already been written, such as A View of the River (Leopold 1994) and Stream Hydrology: An Introduction for Ecologists (Gordon et al. 2004). Readers who are new to the field of river science will find that these other texts nicely complement Riparia.
Riparia's middle section elaborates the principles covered in previous chapters, introducing more interdisciplinarity and case studies. The authors examine aspects of biotic function and biophysical connectivity (one chapter to each topic) to analyze water, carbon, and nutrient fluxes; they first consider primary production and decomposition, which naturally lead to energy flow and food webs. The presentation of ecological processes and interactions starts with analyses of riparian plants, then moves to animals, particularly large mammals. The section closes with an overview of the role of salmon as transporters of marine-derived nutrients, an especially interesting study system that links marine, freshwater, and riparian components.
The human dimension of riparia is addressed in the next four chapters. One of these, “Disturbance,” I found slightly disjointed because the authors inserted a short section on natural disturbance and disturbance ecology into a discussion of human alteration. Riparian zones are often floodplains, and thus floods—as well as other natural disturbances—merit more emphasis. In a future edition, the authors might consider giving separate, fuller treatment to natural disturbances.
The two ensuing chapters, on conservation and on restoration, overlap, first explaining why riparia are important, then discussing strategies for recovery, with an emphasis on ecosystem services and human values. The authors clearly recognize the challenge of linking scientific knowledge—and its uncertainties—to public policy. They endorse the need to recover more natural river flow regimes, which provide the hydrologic patterns and variations essential for riparian as well as aquatic organisms. They also recognize the complexities of riparian assessment, and the need to coordinate land-use planning and management at both local and watershed scales. In the closing chapter, “Synthesis,” the authors highlight and integrate functions, ecological principles, and management guidelines for riparian zones. Two sections near the end of the synthesis chapter, on emerging study tools (particularly remote-sensing instruments) and global environmental change, offer useful discussions but distract somewhat from the book's predominant themes.
The bibliography—more than 50 pages of resources, primarily journal papers—represents a vast contemporary literature base. The research papers are extensively cited throughout the text, enabling interested readers to verify the authors' conclusions and pursue various topics further. The authors' capacity to summarize and integrate very different research subfields accurately and insightfully is an extraordinary feature of this book. I highly recommend Riparia to all river and riparian scientists and to others interested in the topic, an emerging focus of ecology and natural resource management. This book is sure to become a classic.