Riparian zones, transitional areas between aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems, have high plant species diversities. However, they are extremely vulnerable to natural factors, such as changes in river hydrological conditions (floods, droughts) and disturbances from human activities (dams, farmland encroachment, etc.). The distribution of plant life forms and variations in the degree of vegetation coverage in a riparian zone can reflect changes in the environmental conditions. In this study, we analyzed eight reaches from the four main tributaries (Dongyang River, Yang River, Sanggan River, and Yongding River) of the Yongding River Basin, which were selected based on their climate, terrain, and degree of human disturbance. One reach was located on the Dongyang River (DYR), two reaches on the Yang River (YR1 and YR2), three on the Sanggan River (SGR1, 2, and 3), and two on the Yongding River (YDR1 and YDR2). Unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) technology was used to obtain high-resolution, true-color, multispectral images. The distributions of the plant life forms and the differences in the vegetation coverage were analyzed in the eight selected riparian zones. The results showed that grasses dominated the riparian zone and shrubs and trees were sparsely distributed along both banks of all streams, excluding SGR2 and YDR1. The areas with an extremely high vegetation coverage classification accounted for the highest proportion in the DYR (29.3%), YR2 (48.1%), SGR1 (32.9%), SGR2 (39.9%), SGR3 (85.1%), YDR1 (36.7%), and YDR2 (51.1%) reaches. Extremely low vegetation coverage accounted for the highest proportion in the YR2 reach, reaching 37.4%. This study indicated that natural factors and human activities have a serious impact on the distribution of different plants life forms and vegetation coverage classifications in the riparian zones of the Yongding River Basin. We hope that this research can provide practical assistance in the efforts of ecological restoration and the management of riparian vegetation in the Yongding River Basin.
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