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United Nations Environment Programme
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Freshwater Management Series No. 7

Phytotechnologies

A Technical Approach in Environmental Management

III. EXAMPLES OF ENVIRONMENTAL APPLICATIONS OF PHYTOTECHNOLOGY

Environmentally beneficial applications of phytotechnologies involve the use of plants to augment the capacity of ecosystems to absorb impacts; to prevent, reduce or remediate pollution; and to monitor and assess ecosystems health. These possible applications may also increase the functioning of ecological systems and hence the value of natural capital. For example phytotechnology applications might use plants to break down or sequester pollutants (sometimes making useful products along the way), or replace existing activities that pollute with ones that do not. Applications can also include the use of plants for water cycle and ecosystems restoration. Although the concept is not new, this area is evolving and novel applications are continuing to emerge. Table 5 summarizes some of the environmental applications of phytotechnologies reviewed in this section.

Table 5 Examples of Phytotechnology Applications

Examples of Phytotechnology Applications

A. Ecotone Protection and Augmentation

Ecotones are transition areas between two adjacent ecological communities, for example, between aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems. Ecotones are crucial for protection of these ecosystems against anthropogenic impacts. The transition area has the same function for an aquatic ecosystem, such as a lake, as a membrane has for a cell. Essentially, the ecotone functions as a phytotechnology by preventing, to a certain extent, the penetration of undesirable contaminants into the lake and protecting the shoreline area.

Non-point or diffuse pollutants in the environment inevitably flow toward surface water bodies, however the transition zone is usually able to transform and/or adsorb most pollutants entirely or partially, within a certain threshold. This can significantly reduce the potential for irreversible effects on the watershed as a whole. Ecotones serve not only as a buffer zone for protection against pollutants, but also as productive habitat for species present in adjacent ecosystems.
During the past few decades, considerable damage has been done to the water/land ecotone due to the construction of concrete embankments for allowing natural currents to flow faster and for “protecting” shorelines from erosion. More recently, this practice has been changing to take advantage of the self purification capacity in freshwater bodies and rivers. The rehabilitation of the ecotone through the application of phytotechnologies has allowed vegetation to grow back naturally leading to improvements in water quality.
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