, Volume 16, Issue 3, pp 359–381 | Cite as

Riparian Ecosystems in the 21st Century: Hotspots for Climate Change Adaptation?

  • Samantha J. CaponEmail author
  • Lynda E. Chambers
  • Ralph Mac Nally
  • Robert J. Naiman
  • Peter Davies
  • Nadine Marshall
  • Jamie Pittock
  • Michael Reid
  • Timothy Capon
  • Michael Douglas
  • Jane Catford
  • Darren S. Baldwin
  • Michael Stewardson
  • Jane Roberts
  • Meg Parsons
  • Stephen E. Williams


Riparian ecosystems in the 21st century are likely to play a critical role in determining the vulnerability of natural and human systems to climate change, and in influencing the capacity of these systems to adapt. Some authors have suggested that riparian ecosystems are particularly vulnerable to climate change impacts due to their high levels of exposure and sensitivity to climatic stimuli, and their history of degradation. Others have highlighted the probable resilience of riparian ecosystems to climate change as a result of their evolution under high levels of climatic and environmental variability. We synthesize current knowledge of the vulnerability of riparian ecosystems to climate change by assessing the potential exposure, sensitivity, and adaptive capacity of their key components and processes, as well as ecosystem functions, goods and services, to projected global climatic changes. We review key pathways for ecological and human adaptation for the maintenance, restoration and enhancement of riparian ecosystem functions, goods and services and present emerging principles for planned adaptation. Our synthesis suggests that, in the absence of adaptation, riparian ecosystems are likely to be highly vulnerable to climate change impacts. However, given the critical role of riparian ecosystem functions in landscapes, as well as the strong links between riparian ecosystems and human well-being, considerable means, motives and opportunities for strategically planned adaptation to climate change also exist. The need for planned adaptation of and for riparian ecosystems is likely to be strengthened as the importance of many riparian ecosystem functions, goods and services will grow under a changing climate. Consequently, riparian ecosystems are likely to become adaptation ‘hotspots’ as the century unfolds.


adaptive capacity ecosystem services environmental management floodplains human adaptation vulnerability water resources 


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  • Samantha J. Capon
    • 1
    Email author
  • Lynda E. Chambers
    • 2
  • Ralph Mac Nally
    • 3
  • Robert J. Naiman
    • 4
    • 5
  • Peter Davies
    • 5
  • Nadine Marshall
    • 6
  • Jamie Pittock
    • 7
  • Michael Reid
    • 8
  • Timothy Capon
    • 9
  • Michael Douglas
    • 10
  • Jane Catford
    • 11
    • 12
  • Darren S. Baldwin
    • 13
  • Michael Stewardson
    • 14
  • Jane Roberts
    • 15
    • 16
  • Meg Parsons
    • 17
  • Stephen E. Williams
    • 18
  1. 1.Australian Rivers InstituteGriffith UniversityBrisbaneAustralia
  2. 2.Centre for Australian Weather and Climate ResearchBureau of MeteorologyMelbourneAustralia
  3. 3.Australian Centre for Biodiversity, School of Biological SciencesMonash UniversityMelbourneAustralia
  4. 4.School of Aquatic and Fishery SciencesUniversity of WashingtonSeattleUSA
  5. 5.Centre of Excellence in Natural Resource ManagementUniversity of Western AustraliaAlbanyAustralia
  6. 6.CSIRO Ecosystem SciencesTownsvilleAustralia
  7. 7.Crawford School of Public PolicyThe Australian National UniversityCanberraAustralia
  8. 8.School of Behavioural, Cognitive and Social SciencesUniversity of New EnglandArmidaleAustralia
  9. 9.CSIRO Ecosystem SciencesCanberraAustralia
  10. 10.NERP Northern Australia Hub and Tropical Rivers and Coastal Knowledge Research HubCharles Darwin UniversityDarwinAustralia
  11. 11.School of BotanyThe University of MelbourneMelbourneAustralia
  12. 12.Fenner School of Environment and SocietyThe Australian National UniversityCanberraAustralia
  13. 13.CSIRO Land and Water and the Murray-Darling Freshwater Research CentreLaTrobe UniversityWodongaAustralia
  14. 14.Department of Infrastructure EngineeringThe University of MelbourneMelbourneAustralia
  15. 15.Institute of Land, Water and SocietyCharles Sturt UniversityAlburyAustralia
  16. 16.CanberraAustralia
  17. 17.School of Population HealthThe University of MelbourneMelbourneAustralia
  18. 18.Centre for Tropical Biodiversity & Climate Change, School of Marine & Tropical BiologyJames Cook UniversityTownsvilleAustralia

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