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The relative role of environmental, spatial, and land-use patterns in explaining aquatic macrophyte community composition

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Quantifying the relative role of environmental and spatial factors to understand patterns in community composition is a fundamental goal of community ecology. We applied a tested and repeatable point-intercept sampling method to aquatic macrophyte assemblages in 225 Wisconsin lakes to understand the ability of environmental, land-use, and spatial patterns to explain aquatic plant distribution and abundance. Using a variation partitioning framework in conjunction with Moran eigenvector maps we found that environmental, land-use, and spatial patterns explained 31% of total adjusted variation in aquatic macrophyte assemblages across the landscape. Environmental factors were the most important (contributing 34% of the total explained variation), but all sources of variation were statistically significant. Community composition varied from north to south along a gradient of alkalinity and from disturbed to undisturbed lakes, diverging according to whether disturbance was urban or agricultural. The large amount of shared variation among predictor variables suggests causal relationships are complex and emphasizes the importance of considering space and land-use in addition to environmental factors when characterizing macrophyte assemblages. This work is the first to examine the joint and unique effects of environment, land-use, and spatial patterns on aquatic plant communities.

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: 1: Center for Limnology, University of Wisconsin–Madison, 680 N. Park Street, Madison, WI 53706, USA. 2: Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, 2801 Progress Road, Madison, WI 53716, USA.

Publication date: October 19, 2011

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  • Published continuously since 1901 (under various titles), this monthly journal is the primary publishing vehicle for the multidisciplinary field of aquatic sciences. It publishes perspectives (syntheses, critiques, and re-evaluations), discussions (comments and replies), articles, and rapid communications, relating to current research on cells, organisms, populations, ecosystems, or processes that affect aquatic systems. The journal seeks to amplify, modify, question, or redirect accumulated knowledge in the field of fisheries and aquatic science. Occasional supplements are dedicated to single topics or to proceedings of international symposia.
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