Evaluating the quality of riparian forest vegetation: the Riparian Forest Evaluation (RFV) index

Fernando Magdaleno, Roberto Martínez


Aim of study: This paper presents a novel index, the Riparian Forest Evaluation (RFV) index, for assessing the ecological condition of riparian forests. The status of riparian ecosystems has global importance due to the ecological and social benefits and services they provide. The initiation of the European Water Framework Directive (2000/60/CE) requires the assessment of the hydromorphological quality of natural channels. The Directive describes riparian forests as one of the fundamental components that determine the structure of riverine areas. The RFV index was developed to meet the aim of the Directive and to complement the existing methodologies for the evaluation of riparian forests.

Area of study: The RFV index was applied to a wide range of streams and rivers (170 water bodies) inSpain.

Materials and methods: The calculation of the RFV index is based on the assessment of both the spatial continuity of the forest (in its three core dimensions: longitudinal, transversal and vertical) and the regeneration capacity of the forest, in a sampling area related to the river hydromorphological pattern. This index enables an evaluation of the quality and degree of alteration of riparian forests. In addition, it helps to determine the scenarios that are necessary to improve the status of riparian forests and to develop processes for restoring their structure and composition.

Main results: The results were compared with some previous tools for the assessment of riparian vegetation. The RFV index got the highest average scores in the basins of northernSpain, which suffer lower human influence. The forests in central and southern rivers got worse scores. The bigger differences with other tools were found in complex and partially altered streams and rivers.

Research highlights: The study showed the index’s applicability under diverse hydromorphological and ecological conditions and the main advantages of its application. The utilization of the index allows a better understanding of the status of riparian forests, and enhances improvements in the conservation and management of riparian areas.

Keywords: riparian quality; Water Framework Directive; connectivity; indicator; hydromorphology. 

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DOI: 10.5424/fs/2014232-04488

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