The importance of riparian forest protection is widely acknowledged. However, scientific discussions are still ongoing as to the most suitable and effective protection activities for these forests. The quality of the provision of different ecosystem services in protected riparian forest buffers could provide an insight into the impact of protection regulations. Cultural ecosystem services in riparian forests have an important social-ecological context, especially with the growing interest in recreation activities in forests. The aim of our study was to compare provision of different ecosystem services in riparian forest buffers located both adjacent to (0–50 m) and distant from (51–200 m) the stream. In our study, four small-to-medium-sized rivers in Latvia were used. In total, six different indicators of ecosystem services were estimated, based on data from the National Forest Inventory and the European Soil Data Centre. Bayesian ordinal regression was employed to assess the differences between the two buffer strips. Our results showed that the majority of assessed ecosystem service indicators (Recreation potential of the forest ecosystem, Visual quality of the forest landscape, Potential for the presence of medicinal plants and Potential for the presence of nectar plants) were of higher quality in the adjacent (0–50 m) buffer. Only one indicator (Flora with phytoremediation potential) had significantly higher values in the distant buffer strips (estimate 0.24, CI: [0.11, 0.38]). The observed distribution of quality classes showed that, only for the indicator Potential of medicinal plants, the highest quality class was the most common (>60%), for other indicators dominated average quality class estimations. The obtained results suggested that the current protection status that riparian forest buffers have facilitated maintain the provision of several cultural and regulation & maintenance ecosystem services.
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