Riparian zones are transitional plant communities that are important for the protection of stream water quality and biota and they often have high biological diversity within small geographical areas. This study characterized the vegetation and several physical site features within four riparian zones in the Little Chazy River watershed located in Clinton County, NY. A total of 110 plant species were sampled in the overstory, understory, and groundcover at these study sites. Average species richness in the 1m2 groundcover plots ranged between 7.0 at the agricultural riparian zone to 17.8 at one of the forested riparian zones. Species diversity values ranged between 1.23 at the agricultural riparian zone to 2.32 at one of the forested riparian zones. In this study, the riparian zone with active agricultural activity had no overstory or understory and the least diverse groundcover. Ordination of groundcover data showed both between-site and within-site separations, indicating large differences in species composition can occur on a small spatial scale. No relationship was found between nutrient availability and disturbance intensity of the riparian zones. The abundance of non-indigenous plant species was directly related to disturbance history of the riparian zones. Best management practices (BMP's) for agriculture and forestry in the Lake Champlain Valley should include guidelines for the preservation of natural riparian ecosystems without producing severe economic consequences for landowners. BMP's should be specific to each type of riparian ecosystem found in northeastern New York.
Published in SUNY Plattsburgh's Scientia Discipulorum Journal of Undergraduate Research. Volume 2, issue 1, pages 22-39. 2006.