Wetlands Ecology and Management

, Volume 16, Issue 3, pp 237–253 | Cite as

Vegetation along hydrologic, edaphic, and geochemical gradients in a high-elevation poor fen in Canaan Valley, West Virginia

  • James S. RentchEmail author
  • James T. Anderson
  • Sam Lamont
  • John Sencindiver
  • Robert Eli
Original Paper


Wetland plant community composition and pattern are regulated by a host of abiotic/environmental gradients and biotic factors. We used multivariate analyses to classify wetland plant communities and determine the relation of hydrologic, edaphic, and geochemical gradients on community composition and spatial distribution among 18 vegetation, hydrology, and soil sampling points in Abe Run, a botanically unique poor fen in northeastern West Virginia. We also examined the interactions of disturbance with the physical environment and species composition. A total of 179 vascular plant species were identified from sample plots. Vegetative composition and structure, dominant soil texture, and hydrology lacked the distinct concentric zonation of northern peatlands; instead, all were patchy and varied considerably over short distances. Graminoid-forb meadows with primarily silt-loam mineral horizons, greater depth to groundwater, and fewer days of inundation characterized the lower reaches of the wetland. These plots were more acidic, with absent or shallow O horizons, and lower concentrations of soil base cations (Ca, Mg, K). In the upper reaches of the wetland, mixed herb-shrub-tree dominated communities were structurally and compositionally more complex; here, organic horizons were much more prominent, peat depth ranged from 80 to 100 cm, and the average depth to water table was 10 cm less than for wells in the lower reaches of the wetland. Plots from upper transects (3–6) tended to have more shrub and tree cover, and higher concentrations of soil base cations. Much of the variability among plots in the upper and lower reaches of the wetland are consistent with beaver inundation of a large portion of the wetland during the 1980s. Multiple-response permutation procedures verified the difference (P < 0.0001) between vegetation of plots in the lower and upper reaches of the watershed. Because fens are connected to groundwater, these habitats are particularly vulnerable to disturbances, particularly those that alter existing land use and land cover. Minimization of disturbances in the surrounding watershed, controls on an excessive deer population, removal of exotic, non-native species, and control on foot traffic are all integral to maintaining the integrity of this high-value wetland.


Gradient analysis Non-metric multidimensional scaling Multi-response permutation procedures Species richness 



William Grafton, Ronald Fortney, and James Gorman (WVU), and John Northeimer (Canaan Valley State Park) assisted in fieldwork. Thanks to West Virginia Division of Natural Resources for permitting access to the study area. We also thank Steve Kite (Department of Geology and Geography, West Virginia University) for helpful discussions on site geology. Partial funding was provided by a McIntire-Stennis grant, and a grant from the Canaan Valley Institute and the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Grant # 2001-38874-10504. This is Scientific Article No. 3006 of the West Virginia University Agricultural and Forestry Experiment Station, Morgantown.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  • James S. Rentch
    • 1
    Email author
  • James T. Anderson
    • 1
  • Sam Lamont
    • 2
  • John Sencindiver
    • 3
  • Robert Eli
    • 2
  1. 1.Division of Forestry and Natural ResourcesWest Virginia UniversityMorgantownUSA
  2. 2.Department of Civil and Environmental EngineeringWest Virginia UniversityMorgantownUSA
  3. 3.Division of Plant and Soil SciencesWest Virginia UniversityMorgantownUSA

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