The term “riparian” refers to rivers, creeks, streams, and their surrounding floodplains. Sandbars and floodplains are areas of high geomorphic activity, meaning there is constant movement of rock, sand, and silt from outer banks and deposition of these sediments along inner banks and floodplains.
New sediment deposits create areas of primary succession for specially-adapted “pioneer” plant species to thrive, but many other species of tree cannot become established. These pioneer species help keep some sediment in place and build up the stream banks.
Many species of fish, amphibians, reptiles, and mammals live in riparian streams and rivers, creating a diverse system of predators and prey known as a food web. At the base of a riparian food web lies algae and water plants, known collectively as primary producers. The producer species provide food for herbivores, also known as primary consumers.
The primary consumers are, in turn, eaten by predators which make up the secondary and tertiary consumer level. When one part of the food web is negatively affected by humans or a natural disaster, all levels of the food web may be thrown out of balance.