What does riparian mean?

There are numerous definitions for a riparian area. The USDA Forest Service defines it as: "the aquatic ecosystem and the portions of the adjacent terrestrial ecosystem that directly affect or are affected by the aquatic environment. This includes streams, rivers, lakes, and bays and their adjacent side channels, flood plain, and wetlands. In specific cases, the riparian area may also include a portion of the hillslope that directly serves as streamside habitats for wildlife."

Lowrance, Leonard, and Sheridan defined that riparian ecosystem as: "a complex assemblage of plants and other organisms in an environment adjacent to water. Without definite boundaries, it may include streambanks, flood plain, and wetlands, ... forming a transitional zone between upland and aquatic habitat. Mainly linear in shape and extent, they are characterized by laterally flowing water that rises and falls at least once within a growing season."

The Coastal Zone Management Handbook defines riparian areas as: "vegetated ecosystems along a waterbody through which energy, materials, and water pass. Riparian areas characteristically have a high water table and are subject to periodic flooding and influence from the adjacent waterbody.These systems encompass wetlands, uplands, or some combination of these two land forms. They will not in all cases have all the characteristics necessary for them to be classified as wetlands."

The common threads between these and other definitions are that a riparian area is: 1) adjacent to a body of water; 2) has no clearly defined boundaries; 3) a transition between aquatic and upland environments, and 4) linear in nature.