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Rivers of the world – habitat and transport network

Posted on May 01 2020

Where would we be without rivers? At least we’d be pretty dry. Because the system of streams and rivers serves the surface distribution of water on almost all continents. It provides the basis for life and food for numerous plant and animal species – and is always an important traffic route.


Where do the big rivers come from?

Rivers usually have modest origins. In the high and low mountain ranges of the world, streams spring up, either from springs or fed by glacier ice and snow. The smaller watercourses flow down to the valley, and that is where most of them come together. If the streams join together, a smaller river is formed, which can grow into a wide stream where other tributaries are added. The river follows the natural gradient of the landscape and flows more or less in a straight line.

Nowadays, unfortunately, most of the larger rivers are straightened for navigation, in the past they meandered leisurely in large loops through so-called floodplains. But whether winding or straight, at some point the river comes to an end – when it merges into a larger body of water, a lake or the sea.

Life by the river: habitats for animals and plants

Along the way, the great rivers give the earth "with full hands" so to speak. The plants on their banks are home to small animals, birds and insects, larger animals appreciate riverbanks as grazing areas, and predators of all kinds hunt on and near the river. The fish population attracts birds that specialise in fishing, but also large predators such as bears and some species of cats. Which animals and plants thrive on a river depends on whether you are in the headwaters, the river course or the estuary. All along the way, rivers create an unbroken succession of biotopes, each of which is unique.

Rivers also create networks that connect the biotopes with each other. They allow animal and plant species to spread and develop new forms of coexistence. Rivers shape the landscape in more than one way. 

Amazon River

Rivers in Switzerland

Switzerland, too, can boast a distinctive river system. Although the Swiss rivers cannot keep up with the world's longest six-thousand-kilometre rivers, such as the Amazon, the Nile or the Yangtze, Switzerland is the source area for well-known European "brands". This is where the Rhone and the Rhine, for example, have their source.

Aargau – the Swiss "water castle"

Switzerland even has its own national " water castle", in the canton of Aargau. Here, in the area of the towns Brugg, Windisch, Gebenstorf, Turgi, Stilli and Untersiggenthal, the three Alpine rivers Aare, Reuss and Limmat join together. From here the Aare flows northwards until it flows into the Rhine at Koblenz. Around 40% of Switzerland's water volume comes together here and has been specially protected as an important floodplain since 1989 by the "Wasserschloss-Decree".

Nature sports and river activities

There is nothing wrong with this but nature lovers should try or better have to avoid disturbing the animals and plants. Rivers, as the freshwater reservoir of us all, deserve our protection, as do the flora and fauna that live with, in and from them. 

River Sports

Rivers are worth protecting – and everyone can contribute

It goes without saying that a stop must be put to the pollution of rivers and riverine landscapes. Unfortunately, it is still all too often the case that waters are abused as cesspools – only a few major scandals make it to the public. Anyone who takes a closer look, consumes more consciously and adapts his or her own behaviour a little can contribute amongst other things to the protection of rivers.  


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