Plant species indicators of physical environment in Great Lakes coastal wetlands

Carol A. Johnston, Barbara L. Bedford, Michael Bourdaghs, Terry N Brown, Christin Frieswyk, Mirela Tulbure, Lynn Vaccaro, Joy B. Zedler

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

29 Scopus citations


Plant taxa identified in 90 U.S. Great Lakes coastal emergent wetlands were evaluated as indicators of physical environment. Canonical correspondence analysis using the 40 most common taxa showed that water depth and tussock height explained the greatest amount of species-environment interaction among ten environmental factors measured as continuous variables (water depth, tussock height, latitude, longitude, and six ground cover categories). Indicator species analysis was used to identify species-environment interactions with categorical variables of soil type (sand, silt, clay, organic) and hydrogeomorphic type (Open-Coast Wetlands, River-Influenced Wetlands, Protected Wetlands). Of the 169 taxa that occurred in a minimum of four study sites and ten plots, 48 were hydrogeomorphic indicators and 90 were soil indicators. Most indicators of Protected Wetlands were bog and fen species which were also organic soil indicators. Protected Wetlands had significantly greater average coefficient of conservatism (C) values than did Open-Coast Wetlands and River-Influenced Wetlands, but average C values did not differ significantly by soil type. Open-Coast and River-Influenced hydrogeomorphic types tended to have sand or silt soils. Clay soils were found primarily in areas with Quaternary glaciolacustrine deposits or clay-rich tills. A fuller understanding of how the physical environment influences plant species distribution will improve our ability to detect the response of wetland vegetation to anthropogenic activities.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)106-124
Number of pages19
JournalJournal of Great Lakes Research
Issue numberSPEC. ISS. 3
StatePublished - 2007

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This research has been supported by a grant from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Science to Achieve Results Estuarine and Great Lakes program through funding to the Great Lakes Environmental Indicators project, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Agreement EPA/R-828675. Although the research described in this article has been funded wholly or in part by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, it has not been subjected to the agency’s required peer and policy review and therefore does not necessarily reflect the views of the agency and no official endorsement should be inferred. Michael Aho, Kathy Bailey, Aaron Boers, Spencer Cronk, Charlene Johnson, and Laura Lad-wig provided field assistance, and Jiyul Chang helped with figure preparation. Robert Hell, Valerie Brady, and Lucinda Johnson collected soil samples and provided soil laboratory analyses. We thank Dr. Mark Brinson and Dr. Lawrence Kapustka for thoughtful review comments that improved the manuscript.


  • Coastal wetlands
  • Hydrogeomorphic
  • Indicator species
  • Organic soil
  • Soil texture
  • Tussock


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