Estimating the ‘critical’ distance at which adjacent land-use degrades wetland water and sediment quality
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- Houlahan, J.E. & Findlay, C.S. Landscape Ecology (2004) 19: 677. doi:10.1023/B:LAND.0000042912.87067.35
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Conversion of forested lands to agriculture or urban/residential areas has been associated with declines in stream and lake water quality. Less attention has been paid to the effects of adjacent land-uses on wetland sediment and water quality and, perhaps more importantly, the spatial scales at which these effects occur. Here we address these issues by examining variation in water and sediment nutrient levels in 73 southeastern Ontario, Canada, wetlands. We modeled the relationship between water and sediment nutrient concentrations and various measures of adjacent land-use such as forest cover and road density, measured over increasing distances from the wetland edge. We found that water nitrogen and phosphorous levels were negatively correlated with forest cover at 2250 meters from the wetland edge, while sediment phosphorous levels were negatively correlated with wetland size and forest cover at 4000 meters and positively correlated with the proportion of land within 4000 meters that is itself wetland. These results suggest that the effects of adjacent land-use on wetland sediment and water quality can extend over comparatively large distances. As such, effective wetland conservation will not be achieved merely through the creation of narrow buffer zones between wetlands and more intensive land-uses. Rather, sustaining high wetland water quality will require maintaining a heterogeneous regional landscape containing relatively large areas of natural forest and wetlands.