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Home The River Basin People and the River Governance Resource Management
The River Basin
Climate and Weather
Water Quality
Ecology & Biodiversity
 Aquatic Ecology
 Building Blocks
 Aquatic Habitats
 Life in Aquatic Ecosystems
 Food Chains & Webs
 Biomass & Production
 Classification of Organisms
 Factors Affecting Aquatic Ecosystems



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Macrophytes (literally ‘large plants’) are individual aquatic plants that can be seen by the naked eye, and are categorised according to where and how they grow.

Rooted macrophytes are rooted in the riverbed or lake substrate, and are thus restricted to areas where flow is low enough to permit fine sediments to accumulate. Rooted macrophytes may have leaves entirely submerged (under the water), floating on the surface, or emergent on the surface. In turbid water, little light penetrates and photosynthesis is restricted, hence only plants with floating or emergent leaves can thrive. Rooted macrophytes may extract nutrients from the substrate as well as absorbing them from the water as algae do.

Floating aquatic macrophytes are rootless plants that persist only in backwater areas where the flow slackens—otherwise they are carried downstream. Because their photosynthetic surfaces are above the water surface, these plants can grow in deep, turbid water and places where rooting sites are sparse.

Macrophyte numbers can vary with season as a result of the scouring of river bottom sediments and washout of plants during heavy rains. Tthe number of macrophytes in river channels therefore generally peaks during low flow periods.

Aquatic macrophytes are important in many aquatic systems, particularly wetlands, slower-moving sections of streams and rivers, and in shallower areas of lakes. Aquatic macrophytes add three-dimensional complexity to aquatic habitat, and can provide habitat, refuge, and spawning areas for animals such as aquatic insects and fish, as well as a surface for periphyton growth. As they are primary producers, aquatic macrophytes produce organic matter which can be eaten by some fish. Energy is transferred to animals primarily when the dead plant tissue and associated decomposers are eaten.

Large populations of aquatic macrophytes can harm aquatic ecosystems and the people that rely on them. In some cases, floating plants are so numerous that they form dense mats covering the water surface. Their buoyant leaf crowns merge above the surface while the root masses dangle below into the water. The interlocking vegetation mat blocks sunlight and prevents the growth of other plants. In extreme cases, the underlying water becomes deoxygenated, and floating plants create a nuisance by inhibiting the passage of boats and interfering with fishing. Invasive species of macrophytes can disrupt natural aquatic ecosystems.

Riparian Vegetation

Riparian vegetation are plants that line the banks of rivers and other inland waterbodies. These plants protect river banks from wave action and erosion, and offer shelter, feeding, and breeding areas for fish, birds and other organisms. Riparian vegetation can provide considerable organic matter to streams and rivers in the form of leaves, twigs, etc. The riparian zone can contain a variety of plants – from grasses to trees – often in a gradual transition with distance from the bank, reflecting different species’ tolerance for soil saturation.

A schematic representation of riparian vegetation types.
Source: NTEAP 2007
( click to enlarge )
Water hyacinth can prove a menace in water courses.
Source: Nile RAK 2007
( click to enlarge )




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