Impacts of riparian width and stream channel width on ecological networks in main waterways and tributaries.
Riparian buffer width and stream channel width have different impacts on ecological networks (e.g., plant cover, regeneration, exotics, erosion, habitat, and stressors) and provide various ecosystem services. The protection of riparian zones of increasing widths for higher-order streams and connected tributaries alongside mega-reservoirs and around dams is of great global significance. However, it remains unclear which protection strategies are most effective for such zones. By applying a rapid field-based approach with 326 transects on an inundated area of 58,000 km2 within the Three Gorges Dam Reservoir (TGDR) in China, we found that riparian buffer areas were influenced differently by broad-ranging widths. The riparian buffer width of 101.84 ± 72.64 m (mean ± standard deviation) had the greatest impact on the main waterway, whereas the stream channel width of 99.87 ± 97.10 m was most influential in tributaries. The correlation coefficient strengths among ecological and stress parameters (independently) were relatively greater in the main waterway riparian zones; the highest value was r = 0.930 using Pearson correlation (p < 0.05). In contrast, stress parameters revealed substantial and strong relationships with ecological parameters in tributaries, with the highest value being r = 0.551. Riparian width had the strongest influence on buffer vegetation scales, high-impact exotics, and bank stability. In comparison, channel width had the greatest effect on tree roots, dominant tree regeneration, and agricultural farming. These parameters showed distinctive responses in the shapes of indexing in higher-order streams and connected tributaries. These observations confirm the urgent need for research on regional-based extended riparian areas managed by the same administration strategies. Revised guidelines are needed to protect massive dam and reservoir ecosystems from further deterioration.