, Volume 61-62, Issue 1-3, pp 35-50

Riparian forest buffers in agroecosystems – lessons learned from the Bear Creek Watershed, central Iowa, USA

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Intensive agriculture can result in increased runoff of sediment and agricultural chemicals that pollute streams. Consensus is emerging that, despite our best efforts, it is unlikely that significant reductions in nutrient loading to surface waters will be achieved through traditional, in-field management alone. Riparian forest buffers can play an important role in the movement of water and NPS (non-point source) pollutants to surface water bodies and ground water. Riparian buffers are linear in nature and because of their position in the landscape provide effective connections between the upland and aquatic ecosystems. Present designs tend to use one model with a zone of unmanaged trees nearest the stream followed by a zone of managed trees with a zone of grasses adjacent to the crop field. Numerous variations of that design using trees, shrubs, native grasses and forbs or nonnative cool-season grasses may provide better function for riparian forest buffers in specific settings. Properly designed riparian buffers have been shown to effectively reduce surface NPS pollutant movement to streams and under the right geological riparian setting can also remove them from the groundwater. Flexibility in design can also be used to produce various market and nonmarket goods. Design flexibility should become more widely practiced in the application of this agroforestry practice.