Riparian Plants of New Mexico
Riperian Areas of New Mexico
Simply stated, riparian areas are the transitional zones between aquatic and upland environments. However, this discussion becomes infinitely more complicated as specific details are examined and disciplines are considered. "Functionally, the riparian zone is the area of direct interactions between aquatic and terrestrial environments" (Swanson et al.; 1982). All of the materials, energy, and organisms that are transferred between these two environments affect, and are affected by, a vegetation community that is compositionally, structurally, and functionally distinct from upland vegetation communities (Waring and Schlesinger 1985). For more detailed discussion of what a riparian area is, click here.
Particularly in the southwestern United States, riparian habitats support a greater diversity of plants and animals compared to their upland counterparts. In the Southwest, a large percentage of all wildlife spends some portion of their life cycle in riparian habitat (Thomas et al. 1979, Johnson et al. 1977). Riparian habitat and historical floodplains are also important sites for agricultural production including farming and ranching. The productive soils found in historical floodplains combined with accessibility to water for irrigation make these areas extremely valuable and productive for growing crops. Livestock producers value riparian habitat for its proximity to water and the diversity, quantity, and nutritional value of forage found in these areas.
Riparian areas occupy less than 2% of the landscape in the southwestern United States (Allen and Marlow 1992). Click here for a map depicting perennial streams in New Mexico (NMWRRI GIS Lab 2002), Click here for a map depicting the intermittent and ephemeral streams of New Mexico (NMWRRI GIS Lab 2002). However, their importance, both ecologically and economically, far outweighs their representation in the landscape. While riparian areas can be very resilient in recovering from many different types of disturbances, their ecological importance and the functions they serve should be appreciated and negative impacts minimized. Resource managers are increasingly incorporating sound management of riparian habitat into their management objectives.
The purpose of this site is to provide a resource for people who are interested in the vegetation found in riparian and wetland areas in New Mexico.; In order to help people identify riparian plant species, we have provided photographs of individual species as well as descriptive information to learn more about each particular species.