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Threshold responses of communities in coastal wetlands

Published On: 11/11/2014

Low levels of anthropogenic stress in a watershed impact wetland organisms

Ecological communities of the Laurentian Great Lakes were strongly effected by development within watersheds. The Laurentian Great Lakes coastal wetlands represent a gradient of anthopogenic impact (associated with agriculture and development), ranging from nearly pristine to severely degraded. These wetlands are also valued for ecological and socioeconomic reasons. Using a large set of survey data from the Great Lake Environmental Indicators Project, Kovelenko and collaborators found that assemblages of birds, fish, benthic macroinvertebrates, wetland vegetation and diatoms shared a similar threshold response to watershed development. The congruence of threshold responses may be caused by a cascade of watershed-scale stressors to the local scale. Community responses were less sensitive to agriculture in a watershed, possibly because local mediating factors could be important and agricultural activities have an indirect effect on coastal wetlands. Usually, the responses of different taxonomic groups to environmental stressors are studied independently and taxa may respond differently. Understanding threshold responses is important because they may be signals of deleterious changes in ecological processes or functions.

Read the original paper in Freshwater Science:
K. E. Kovalenko, J. V. Brady, N. T. Brown, J. J. H. Ciborowski, N. P. Danz, J. P. Gathman, G. E. Host, R. W. Howe, L. B. Johnson, G. J. Niemi, E. D. Reavie. (2014) Congruence of community thresholds in response to anthropogenic stress in Great Lakes coastal wetlands. Freshwater Science. 33(3):958–971.

To find out more about the Great Lakes Environmental Indicators Project, go to:

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