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Ecol Appl. 2011 Jul;21(5):1659-78.

How novel is too novel? Stream community thresholds at exceptionally low levels of catchment urbanization.

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  • 1Center for Reservoir and Aquatic Systems Research, Department of Biology, Baylor University, One Bear Place #97388, Waco, Texas 76798, USA. ryan_s_king@baylor.edu

Abstract

Novel physical and chemical conditions of many modern ecosystems increasingly diverge from the environments known to have existed at any time in the history of Earth. The loss of natural land to urbanization is one of the most prevalent drivers of novel environments in freshwaters. However, current understanding of aquatic community response to urbanization is based heavily upon aggregate indicators of community structure and linear or wedge-shaped community response models that challenge ecological community theory. We applied a new analytical method, threshold indicator taxa analysis (TITAN), to a stream biomonitoring data set from Maryland to explicitly evaluate linear community response models to urbanization that implicitly assume individual taxa decline or increase at incrementally different levels of urbanization. We used TITAN (1) to identify the location and magnitude of greatest change in the frequency and abundance of individual taxa and (2) to assess synchrony in the location of change points as evidence for stream community thresholds in response to percent impervious cover in catchments. We documented clear and synchronous threshold declines of 110 of 238 macroinvertebrate taxa in response to low levels of impervious cover. Approximately 80% of the declining taxa did so between 0.5% and 2% impervious cover, whereas the last 20% declined sporadically from 2% to 25% impervious cover. Synchrony of individual responses resulted in distinct community-level thresholds ranging from < or = 0.68% (mountains), 1.28% (piedmont), and 0.96% (coastal plain) impervious cover. Upper limits (95% confidence intervals) of community thresholds were < 2% cover in all regions. Within distinct physiographic classes, higher-gradient, smaller catchments required less impervious cover than lower gradient, larger catchments to elicit community thresholds. Relatively few taxa showed positive responses to increasing impervious cover, and those that did gradually increased in frequency and abundance, approximating a linear cumulative distribution. The sharp, synchronous declines of numerous taxa established a consistent threshold response at exceptionally low levels of catchment urbanization, and uncertainty regarding the estimation of impervious cover from satellite data was mitigated by several corroborating lines of evidence. We suggest that threshold responses of communities to urban and other novel environmental gradients may be more prevalent than currently recognized.

PMID:
21830709
[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
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