As a woodland stream, Hurricane Creek and its tributaries host an abundance of trees which provide integral food, shelter, and organic matter for the creek ecosystem and its species. Back in the late 1800's when Roland Harper was first mapping the plants along Hurricane Creek, the area was characterized by longleaf pines. Today, these longleafs are gone and have been replaced by loblolly and shortleaf pines.
The Riparian Canopy
The riparian canopy refers to the vegetation and plant life at the canopy, or top-level, of the ecosystem. For a woodland stream, this riparian canopy cover is critical to the health of the aquatic species in the stream. It serves to keep water temperatures from rising past the levels which sustain creek life by providing shaded portions of stream and lessening evaporation. Leaves falling from the bordering woodlands provide a stream with an important input of nutrients. This plant litter provides energy for the detritus-consuming organisms at the base of the trophic web, or food web. A stream's "integrity" depends on the maintenance and survival of trophic webs.
The Riparian BufferThe riparian buffers is the vegetated areas next to the stream that protects it from nonpoint source pollution, provides bank stabilization, and offers aquatic and wildlife habitat. The buffer zone also acts as a natural filter for the stream. After a heavy rain or during stream flooding events, waters flooding out into the riparian buffer zone may also be cleansed of sediments, nutrients and toxic materials as a result of particulate trapping and the binding of materials on the leaf litter and soils within the riparian buffer zone.
Large Woody DebrisLarge woody debris is a general term referring to all wood naturally occurring or artificially placed in streams, including, branches, stumps, logs and logjams. Almost all large woody debris in streams is derived from trees located in the riparian corridor. Streams affected by urbanization, agriculture, development, or clear cuts often lack a sufficient quantity of the large woody debris necessary to maintain an ecologically healthy and stable ecosystem. Streams with adequate large woody debris tend to have greater habitat diversity, a natural meandering shape and greater resistance against high water events. Ultimately, large woody debris is an essential component of a healthy stream's ecology and is beneficial. So think twice before clearing that stump from the stream. Learn more about large woody debris from this handout from the Ohio Stream Management Guide.