Plants as indicators of wetland water source

S. C. Goslee, R. P. Brooks, C. A. Cole

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

46 Scopus citations


At the local scale, plant species distribution is determined primarily by the environmental characteristics of a site. In a wetland, water chemistry and hydroperiod are two of the most important of these environmental characteristics. Both are functions of water source. In central Pennsylvania, groundwater input tends to be continuous, while surface water may be permanent or seasonal. The chemistry of groundwater and surface water differs since groundwater is influenced by the substrate through which it flows. Because of these differences, and because of their effects on plant species distribution, it is possible to use vegetation as an indicator of the dominant water source of a site. Plots within 28 wetlands in central Pennsylvania were sampled, and the plots were classified by water source. The three hydrologic categories were groundwater, seasonal surface water, and permanent surface water. The core of the study was the analysis of half of the plots to identify species that were associated with a particular water source. Several groups of indicator species were identified. Some species, including Nyssa sylvatica, were strongly associated with the presence of groundwater. Others, such as Symplocarpus foetidus, were strongly associated with the presence of seasonal surface water. Several aquatic species were associated with permanent surface water. The remainder of the plots were used to test the predictive ability of the indicator species identified. The vegetation of a wetland plot predicted its hydrologic category with 72% accuracy. The identification of more indicator species could lead to the development of a useful tool for wetland research and management, since monitoring hydrology is often both expensive and time-consuming.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)199-206
Number of pages8
JournalPlant Ecology
Issue number2
StatePublished - 1997

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Ecology
  • Plant Science


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