The organisms in the riparian zone respond to changes in river channel location and patterns of flow. The ecosystem of rivers is generally described by the River continuum concept, which has some additions and refinements to allow for spatial (dams, waterfalls) and temporal (extensive flooding). The basic idea is that the river can be described as a system that is continuously changing along its length in the physical parameters, the availability of food particles and the composition of the ecosystem. The food (energy) that is the leftover of the upstream part is being utilized downstream.
The general pattern is that the first order streams contain particulate matter (decaying leaves from the surrounding forests), which is processed there by shredders like Plecoptera larvae. The leftovers of the shredders are utilized by collectors, such as Hydropsychidae, and further downstream algae that create the primary production become the main foodsource of the organisms. All changes are gradual and the distribution of each species can be described as a normal curve with the highest density where the conditions are optimal. In rivers succession is virtually absent and the composition of the ecosystem stays fixed in time.
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