Threshold effects of coastal urbanization onPhragmites australis (common reed) abundance and foliar nitrogen in Chesapeake Bay
The invasion of North American tidal marshes byPhragmites australis, or common reed, is a large-scale ecological problem that has been primarily studied at small spatial scales. Previous local-scale studies have provided evidence that the expansion ofPhragmites is facilitated by disturbance and increased nitrogen (N) associated with agricultural and urban-suburban (developed) land uses along wetland-upland borders. We tested the generality of previous findings across a larger spatial scale and wider range of environmental conditions in Chesapeake Bay, the largest estuarine ecosystem in the USA. We sampled 90 tidal wetlands nested within 30 distinct subestuarine watersheds and examined the relationship between land use andPhragmites abundance and foliar N, an indicator of nitrogen availability. We estimated land use adjacent to wetland borders and within subestuary watersheds and explored the importance of spatial proximity by weighting land use by its distance from the wetland border or subestuary shoreline, respectively. Regression tree and changepoint analyses revealed thatPhragmites abundance sharply increased in almost every wetland where development adjacent to borders exceeded 15%. Where development was <15% but natural land cover at the near the subestuary shoreline was low (<∼35%),Phragmites was abundant, suggesting that wetlands in highly modified watersheds also were susceptible to invasion, regardless of land use adjacent to wetlands.Phragmites foliar N was markedly elevated in watersheds with >14–22% shoreline development, the same level of development that corresponded to high levels of invasion. Our results suggest that development near wetlands is at least partially responsible for patterns of invasion across Chesapeake Bay. Larger-scale phenomena, such as nitrogen pollution at the watershed-subestuary scale, also may be facilitating invasion. Urbanization near coastlines appears to play an important role in the invasion success ofPhragmites in coastal wetlands of Chesapeake Bay and probably much of eastern North America.
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