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The hyporheic habitat of river ecosystems


Contemporary river ecology is based primarily on biogeochemical studies of the river channel and interactions with shoreline vegetation, even though most rivers have extensive floodplain aquifers that are hydraulically connected to the channel. The hyporheic zone, the interstitial habitat penetrated by riverine animals, is characterized as being spatially limited to no more than a few metres, in most cases centimetres, away from the river channel1–9. However, riverine invertebrates were collected in hundreds per sample within a grid of shallow (10 m) wells located on the flood-plain up to 2 km from the channel of the Flathead River, Montana, USA. Preliminary mass transport calculations indicate that nutrients discharged from the hyporheic zone may be crucial to biotic productivity in the river channel. The strength and spatial magnitude of these interactions demonstrate an unexplored dimension in the ecology of gravel-bed rivers.

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Stanford, J., Ward, J. The hyporheic habitat of river ecosystems. Nature 335, 64–66 (1988).

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