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Are landscape-based wetland condition indices reflected by invertebrate and diatom communities?


Assessments of wetland condition are generally based on measures of variables related to plants or large animals (birds, fish), and catchment or landscape features. This approach ignores the considerable biodiversity and functional values of small aquatic organisms. The aim of this study was to assess the correspondence between landscape-based indices of wetland condition and the community composition of both aquatic invertebrates and diatoms across a broad range of wetlands in the West Coast region of New Zealand. Aquatic invertebrates and diatoms were sampled from 29 lowland wetlands subject to varying degrees of catchment modification. Wetland condition was assessed independently using two methods: a field-based method to give the Wetland Condition Index, and a GIS-based method that gave an Index of Ecological Integrity. Strong relationships existed between community composition and pH, so we partitioned the community data into groups according to wetland pH. We found only weak relationships between wetland condition scores and invertebrate and diatom communities within each pH group. In most cases, data describing the nutrient status of the water had the strongest influence on invertebrate and diatom communities. Lack of strong associations between measured wetland condition indices and either diatom or invertebrate community composition suggests that neither index was dominated by variables directly influencing the aquatic component of wetland biota. The challenges now are to identify the critical variables, and to develop complementary wetland scoring systems that better reflect the status of small aquatic organisms.

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This work was funded by the New Zealand Foundation for Research, Science and Technology, Contract Number C09X0508 (Maintaining and Restoring Wetlands), and the Department of Conservation Contract Number 3912 (Biodiversity of Lowland Coastal Wetlands). We thank the Department of Conservation and various land owners in the region for site access. Kerry Bodmin (NIWA Hamilton) and JoAnna Lessard (NIWA Christchurch) are also thanked for review comments.

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Correspondence to Alastair Suren.

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Suren, A., Kilroy, C., Lambert, P. et al. Are landscape-based wetland condition indices reflected by invertebrate and diatom communities?. Wetlands Ecol Manage 19, 73–88 (2011). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11273-010-9201-3

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  • Invertebrates
  • Periphyton
  • Wetlands
  • Water chemistry
  • Landuse
  • Ecological integrity
  • Wetland condition