Aquatic Sciences

, Volume 72, Issue 2, pp 127-163

Open Access This content is freely available online to anyone, anywhere at any time.

Ecology of freshwater shore zones

  • David L. StrayerAffiliated withCary Institute of Ecosystem Studies Email author 
  • , Stuart E. G. FindlayAffiliated withCary Institute of Ecosystem Studies


Freshwater shore zones are among the most ecologically valuable parts of the planet, but have been heavily damaged by human activities. Because the management and rehabilitation of freshwater shore zones could be improved by better use of ecological knowledge, we summarize here what is known about their ecological functioning. Shore zones are complexes of habitats that support high biodiversity, which is enhanced by high physical complexity and connectivity. Shore zones dissipate large amounts of physical energy, can receive and process extraordinarily high inputs of autochthonous and allochthonous organic matter, and are sites of intensive nutrient cycling. Interactions between organic matter inputs (including wood), physical energy, and the biota are especially important. In general, the ecological character of shore zone ecosystems is set by inputs of physical energy, geologic (or anthropogenic) structure, the hydrologic regime, nutrient inputs, the biota, and climate. Humans have affected freshwater shore zones by laterally compressing and stabilizing the shore zone, changing hydrologic regimes, shortening and simplifying shorelines, hardening shorelines, tidying shore zones, increasing inputs of physical energy that impinge on shore zones, pollution, recreational activities, resource extraction, introducing alien species, changing climate, and intensive development in the shore zone. Systems to guide management and restoration by quantifying ecological services provided by shore zones and balancing multiple (and sometimes conflicting) values are relatively recent and imperfect. We close by identifying leading challenges for shore zone ecology and management.


Shoreline Littoral zone Biodiversity Ecosystem function Lakes Rivers