, Volume 30, Issue 1, pp 55-65

First online:

Conceptual Hierarchical Modeling to Describe Wetland Plant Community Organization

  • Amanda M. LittleAffiliated withBiology Department, University of Wisconsin-Stout Email author 
  • , Glenn R. GuntenspergenAffiliated withPatuxent Wildlife Research Center, US Geological Survey
  • , Timothy F. H. AllenAffiliated withDepartment of Botany, University of Wisconsin-Madison

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Using multivariate analysis, we created a hierarchical modeling process that describes how differently-scaled environmental factors interact to affect wetland-scale plant community organization in a system of small, isolated wetlands on Mount Desert Island, Maine. We followed the procedure: 1) delineate wetland groups using cluster analysis, 2) identify differently scaled environmental gradients using non-metric multidimensional scaling, 3) order gradient hierarchical levels according to spatiotemporal scale of fluctuation, and 4) assemble hierarchical model using group relationships with ordination axes and post-hoc tests of environmental differences. Using this process, we determined 1) large wetland size and poor surface water chemistry led to the development of shrub fen wetland vegetation, 2) Sphagnum and water chemistry differences affected fen vs. marsh / sedge meadows status within small wetlands, and 3) small-scale hydrologic differences explained transitions between forested vs. non-forested and marsh vs. sedge meadow vegetation. This hierarchical modeling process can help explain how upper level contextual processes constrain biotic community response to lower-level environmental changes. It creates models with more nuanced spatiotemporal complexity than classification and regression tree procedures. Using this process, wetland scientists will be able to generate more generalizable theories of plant community organization, and useful management models.


Coastal peatland Microtopography Patch size Scale Sedge meadow Sphagnum