, Volume 37, Issue 2, pp 257–268 | Cite as

Hydrologic Influences on Plant Community Structure in Vernal Pools of Northeastern California

  • Meredith C. Gosejohan
  • Peter J. WeisbergEmail author
  • Kyle E. Merriam
Original Research


Plant communities in vernal pools are distributed along continuous elevation gradients associated with subtle variations in microtopography, reflected in spatially heterogeneous hydrologic regimes. We quantified the role of hydrologic and environmental variables for influencing species assemblages within two vernal pool landscapes in northeastern California. A novel combination of approaches including remote photography of water depth stage gauges, vegetation sampling along elevation gradients, and topographic surveys were used to measure hydrology and plant community composition at precise locations. Multivariate analyses were used to classify vernal pool plant communities and classification tree analysis was used to model plant community distribution across hydrologic thresholds. Three plant community groups were distinguished according to localized hydrologic regimes. Inundation period and maximum depth were the only variables found to be predictive of plant distribution. Hydrologic thresholds for the three community groups were based on inundation period: Short (< 71 days), Medium (≥ 71 days but <209 days), and Long (≥ 209 days). The distribution of plant assemblages was strongly correlated with key hydrologic gradients. Quantification of such relationships will be useful in forecasting ecohydrological responses of vernal pool vegetation to climate change, helping to guide future monitoring, management and restoration efforts for these unique ecosystems.


Plant assemblages Hydrologic gradients Plant community classification Non-metric multidimensional scaling Indicator species analysis Seasonal wetlands 



Non-metric multidimensional scaling


Classification and regression tree


Multi-response permutation procedure



Funding for this research was provided by the United States Forest Service, the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture Hatch project NEV052XG, California Department of Fish and Game, the Bureau of Land Management, California Native Plant Society, Northern California Botanists and the University of Nevada Reno College of Agriculture, Biotechnology, and Natural Resources. We would like to thank Laurel Saito for insight on field method design and Thomas Albright, Elizabeth Leger, Laurel Saito, and two anonymous reviewers for providing comments on an earlier version of this manuscript. Ian Grinter, Brian Hindman, Tim Kellison, Don Lepley, Ashton Montrone, Cassandra Rivas and Derek Young assisted with field data collection.

Supplementary material

13157_2016_863_MOESM1_ESM.docx (1.2 mb)
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Copyright information

© Society of Wetland Scientists 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  • Meredith C. Gosejohan
    • 1
  • Peter J. Weisberg
    • 2
    Email author
  • Kyle E. Merriam
    • 3
  1. 1.Susanville Indian RancheriaSusanvilleUSA
  2. 2.Department of Natural Resources and Environmental ScienceUniversity of NevadaRenoUSA
  3. 3.USDA Forest ServicePlumas National ForestQuincyUSA

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