Summary

As pathways between aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems, floodplains perform a myriad of functions that are critical to humanity and all other components of the biosphere. Because of the vital need of all organisms for clean water, the kidney or filtration function is the most important attribute of healthy floodplain systems.

The filtration function entails sediment and nutrient deposition and, consequently, has long made floodplains very attractive for exploitation as agricultural sites. It is ironic that the very function that makes floodplains so important attracts major disturbances which, in turn, result in destruction of the kidney function in those systems. Globally, that destruction is reflected in the magnitude of floodplain loss (i.e., 75%).

While the primary cause of floodplain destruction is shifting from agriculture to urban development, it would be unrealistic to expect that the general magnitude of anthropogenic pressures on these systems will abate. Consequently, an answer to the critical question of whether adequate supplies of clean water exist will become increasingly uncertain. In order to provide a positive answer and, subsequently, protect human health and well-being, it is vital that we more clearly understand how these ecotones operate so that functional floodplains can be maintained and integrated into evolving landscapes.

See also: Buffer Zones; Decomposition and Mineralization; Denitrification; Ecosystem Ecology; Ecosystems; Riparian Wetlands; Riparian Zone Management and Restoration; Rivers and Streams: Ecosystem Dynamics and Integrating Paradigms; Rivers and Streams: Physical Setting and Adapted Biota; Soil Erosion by Water; Stream Management; Swamps; Wetland Models.

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