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Quantifying interspecific spatial overlap in aquatic macrophyte communities


Levins’s asymmetrical α index quantifies between species overlap over resources more realistically than similar-purpose single-value indices. The associated community-wide \(\bar \alpha\) index expresses the degree of “species packing”. Both indices were formulated upon competing animal (i.e., mobile) organisms and are independent of population densities. However, overlap over resources for nonmobile organisms such as plants may have an impact even below carrying capacity. The proposed \(\hat \alpha\) index, based on Levins’s α index, quantifies spatial overlap for plants integrating information on species spatial distribution and crowding conditions. The \(\hat \alpha\) index is specifically designed for plant distribution data collected in discrete plots with density expressed as percent coverage (%cover) of substratum. We also propose a community-wide \({\hat \alpha_{\text{c}}}\) index, conceptually analogous to \(\bar \alpha\), but furnished with a measure of dispersion (se \({\hat \alpha_{\text{c}}}\)). Species importance within the community is inferred from comparisons of pairwise \(\hat \alpha\)’s with \({\hat \alpha_{\text{c}}}\). The \(\hat \alpha\) and \({\hat \alpha_{\text{c}}}\) indices correlate closely and exponentially with plant density, and correct apparent over- and underestimations of interaction intensity at low and very high crowding by Levins’s α and \(\bar \alpha\), respectively. Index application to aquatic plant communities gave results consistent with within-community and general ecological patterns, suggesting a high potential of the proposed \(\hat \alpha\) and \({\hat \alpha_{\text{c}}}\) indices in basic and applied macrophyte ecological studies and management.

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    A comparison between the association strength (r 2) of the two regressions in Fig. 4, and not the very small P values (a feature of sample-size-dependent regression analysis), is the real object of this analysis.


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Constructive criticism by Dr. G. Dennis Cooke and Prof. David W. Waller (Kent State University); Dr. Tom Andersen (University of Oslo); Prof. Bruno Cicolani, Dr. Francesco Paolo Miccoli and Dr. Antonio Di Sabatino (University of L’Aquila); Dr. Gaetano De Luca (Italian Institute of Vulcanology and Seismology/INFN); Dr. John Silander (University of Connecticut), and two anonymous reviewers greatly improved the paper. We also thank Ms. Priscilla Ryder, Conservation Officer of the City of Marlborough, for permission to use the Fort Meadow Reservoir data. Our thanks go to the NIVA and ENSR employees who contributed to collect field data in Steinsfjord and Fort Meadow Reservoir, respectively. The index was developed as a spinoff activity of project # 154270/S30 (monitoring of E. canadensis in Steinsfjord), awarded by the Norwegian Research Council to NIVA. Our thanks also go to Mr. Dag Berge, the Steinsfjord project manager, for his continued support on pursuing the idea that led to this paper.

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Correspondence to Paola Lombardo.

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Guest editors: M. T. Ferreira, M. O’Hare, K. Szoszkiewicz & S. Hellsten / Plants in Hydrosystems: From Functional Ecology to Weed Research

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Lombardo, P., Mjelde, M. Quantifying interspecific spatial overlap in aquatic macrophyte communities. Hydrobiologia 737, 25–43 (2014). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10750-013-1716-1

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  • Submerged vegetation
  • Spatial distribution
  • Interspecific interactions
  • Resource utilization
  • Community structure
  • Competition