Environmental Management

, Volume 12, Issue 5, pp 675–693 | Cite as

The nature of cumulative impacts on biotic diversity of wetland vertebrates

  • Larry D. Harris
Section IV Cumulative Impacts to Wetlands and Wildlife

Abstract

There is no longer any doubt that cumulative impacts have important effects on wetland vertebrates. Interactions of species diversity and community structure produce a complex pattern in which environmental impacts can play a highly significant role. Various examples show how wetlands maintain the biotic diversity within and among vertebrate populations, and some of the ways that environmental perturbations can interact to reduce this diversity.

The trophic and habitat pyramids are useful organizing concepts. Habitat fragmentation can have severe effects at all levels, reducing the usable range of the larger habitat generalists while threatening the genetic integrity of small, isolated populations. The complexity of trophic interactions, and the propensity, or necessity, of vertebrates to switch from one food source to another—something we know little about—makes using food chain support as a variable for predicting environmental impacts very questionable.

Historical instances illustrate the effects of the accumulation of impacts on vertebrates. At present it is nearly impossible to predict the result of three or more different kinds of perturbations, although long-range effects can be observed. One case in point is waterfowl; while their ingestion of lead shot, harvesting by hunters during migration, and loss of habitat have caused waterfowl populations to decline, the proportional responsibility of these factors has not been determined.

Further examples show multiplicative effects of similar actions, effects with long time lags, diffuse processes in the landscape that may have concentrated effects on a component subsystem, and a variety of other interactions of increasing complexity. Not only is more information needed at all levels; impacts must be assessed on a landscape or regional scale to produce informed management decisions. I conclude that a system of replicate wetland reserves that are allowed to interact naturally with the surrounding landscape will be more effective in preserving biotic diversity than isolated sanctuaries.

Key words

Cumulative impacts Landscape ecology Vertebrate biodiversity Wetland habitat Wetland impacts 

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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag New York Inc 1988

Authors and Affiliations

  • Larry D. Harris
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Wildlife and Range Sciences School of Forest Resources and ConservationUniversity of FloridaGainesvilleUSA

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