Riparian ecosystems are naturally resilient, provide linear habitat connectivity, link aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems, and create thermal refugia for wildlife: all characteristics that can contribute to ecological adaptation to climate change [Seavy 2009: 330].
Arguing for the restoration of riparian areas because of their ecological significance and inherent resilience, these authors articulate the importance of both surface and groundwater – protected within a biodiverse ecosystem – for its cooling effect.
Because riparian areas have higher water content than surrounding upland areas, they absorb heat and buffer organisms against extreme temperatures (Naiman et al. 2000). During previous periods of climate change, riparian areas served as refugia because they provided microclimates that protected plant biodiversity (Bakker 1984, Meave and Kellman 1994). Riparian vegetation can maintain cooler water temperatures by shading water from sunlight (Sridhar et al. 2004, Cassie 2006) and the infusion of cold groundwater into warmer surface waters creates and maintains pockets of cool water (Chu et al. 2008). Thus, riparian areas provide thermal refugia for animals with thermoregulatory limitations [Seavy 2009: 332].
Seavy, Nathaniel E., et al., 2009, Why climate change makes riparian restoration more important than ever: recommendations for practice and research, Ecological Restoration 27:3, http://er.uwpress.org/content/27/3/330.short.