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Putting floodplain hyperdiversity in a regional context: an assessment of terrestrial–floodplain connectivity in a montane environment

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Abstract Aim and location 

Alluvial flood plains support higher levels of vascular plant species richness than other terrestrial ecosystems. Whereas the spatial and temporal heterogeneity of these ecosystems has been considered the local determinant of high plant richness, regional influences, such as regional species pools have received little attention. In this study we surveyed plant species richness across the entire Nyack catchment (c. 21,000 ha), in Glacier National Park, USA, to determine the relation of upland ecosystem community structure to biodiversity patterns on montane floodplains that are relatively extensive and flood-scoured ecosystems. Method 

We surveyed floodplain and other terrestrial ecosystems within the Nyack catchment using 50 × 2 m plots to record species present and visual estimates of percentage cover. Species pools from flood plains and three other terrestrial ecosystems (low elevation forests, sub-Alpine forests and alpine) were analysed with nested subset analysis, detrended correspondence analysis (DCA), and an index of beta diversity to identify dissimilarity in species composition and richness, and the separate contributions of generalists (species occurring in more than one ecosystem) and specialists to richness in each ecosystem. Analysis of variance and post hoc Tukey–Kramer tests were used to identify where in the Nyack catchment each species was most abundant. Species life form and dispersal strategies were analysed to better understand influences on beta diversity. Results 

Our data show that in this pristine system, floodplain ecosystems host 202 (63%) of the 320 vascular plants identified within Nyack catchment. Of these species, the nested subset analysis showed that 146 (72%) are found in at least one adjacent upland ecosystem. While the DCA ordination scatter plots show statistically significant separations of ecosystems on the first two axes, values of beta diversity showed that substantial similarity exists between floodplain and all upland species pools. Further, of the 146 floodplain species shared with upland ecosystems, 61% were more frequent in upland ecosystems, whereas 55% were more abundant in uplands than flood plains (Tukey–Kramer P ≤ 0.05). Significant numbers of specialists were found on flood plains (24% of floodplain species), but also within upland ecosystems, where 23% and 40% of low elevation forest and alpine species were found to be specialists, respectively. Whereas 83% of herb generalists were wind dispersed, <70% of specialists were animal dispersed, indicating that similarity in species pools may be driven by wind dispersal. Main conclusions 

These results suggest a re-evaluation of the contribution of floodplain ecosystems to regional plant species richness. While flood plains host specialists, other ecosystems had equal or higher levels of regional ‘endemism’. Furthermore, these data suggest that conservation of high levels of biodiversity on floodplain ecosystems may require consideration of upland ecosystems throughout the catchment as the majority of species were relatively rare on flood plains, indicating they may be sink habitats for some species.
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Keywords: Flood plains; National Park; catchment; connectivity; conservation; floodplain vegetation; species richness

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: School of Forestry, University of Montana, Missoula, MT, USA

Publication date: January 1, 2003

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