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Biotic homogenization of wetland vegetation in the conterminous United States driven by Phalaris arundinacea and anthropogenic disturbance

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Abstract

Context

Biotic homogenization (BH), the process by which β-diversity erodes, is suspected to be severe among plant communities due to widespread anthropogenic disturbances. However, few studies have directly linked anthropogenic disturbance with patterns of BH. The US National Wetlands Condition Assessment (NWCA) provides an opportunity to investigate patterns of β-diversity related to anthropogenic disturbances.

Objectives

Our objectives were to compare β-diversity between highly, intermediately and less-disturbed herbaceous emergent wetlands across the temperate region of the conterminous US, and to identify species with greatest influence on β-diversity patterns within disturbance categories.

Methods

Using species occurrence and abundance data, average distances to group centroids in ordination space were used to assess wetland β-diversity across a disturbance gradient. Species contributions to β-diversity were calculated per disturbance category.

Results

Compared to the least and intermediately disturbed wetlands, highly disturbed wetlands had significantly lower β-diversity based on species abundances across the study area. When using only species occurrences, highly disturbed wetlands had significantly lower β-diversity than intermediately disturbed wetlands. No significant differences were found amongst disturbance categories at the within-site scale. The invasive grass Phalaris arundinacea had the greatest influence on β-diversity, especially in the most disturbed wetlands.

Conclusions

Our results demonstrate that anthropogenic disturbances have homogenized regional botanical diversity. This homogenization is a function of disturbance intensity, which, after a threshold is crossed creates environmental conditions that lead to the local dominance of a single, widespread invader. This process is repeated across the region, scaling up to homogenize the flora of the entire region.

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Data accessibility

The data supporting the conclusions of this article have been archived and are available via the University of Illinois, Data Bank https://doi.org/10.13012/B2IDB-7128075_V1.  Raw data used for analysis can be found at https://www.epa.gov/national-aquatic-resource-surveys/nwca.

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Acknowledgements

This material is based upon work that was supported by Illinois Environmental Protection Agency grant FW-16201. This work would not have been possible without support from the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, Illinois Department of Transportation, and the United States Environmental Protection Agency. Special thanks to the many people who contributed to the NWCA dataset.

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Correspondence to Edward P. F. Price.

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Price, E.P.F., Spyreas, G. & Matthews, J.W. Biotic homogenization of wetland vegetation in the conterminous United States driven by Phalaris arundinacea and anthropogenic disturbance. Landscape Ecol (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10980-020-00978-x

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Keywords

  • Anthropogenic disturbance
  • β-Diversity
  • Biotic homogenization
  • Phalaris arundinacea
  • Wetlands