Functional Process Zones and the River Continuum Concept

Erin L. Hestir

Research conducted over the last three decades has demonstrated that the geomorphology and ecology of a river system are inextricably linked. Fundamentally, the physical variables used to describe a river network control the ecology of that network as well. One of the goals of river and stream ecology is to understand both structure and function of a river network. In order to do so, classification of both the physical and biotic variables that control ecological structure and function must be accomplished. If river networks are classified successfully, predictions about ecological patterns may be made. This chapter discusses the recent riverine ecosystem synthesis by Thorp et al. (2006), its proposed conceptual model for river ecosystem classification, and how this new tool can be used in terms of the classic predictive model, the River Continuum Concept.