Authors:G. Brownstein, C. Johns, A. Fletcher, D. Pritchard, and P. D. Erskine
Ecotones, representing the transition zones between species or communities, have been suggested as focal points for detecting early shifts in vegetation composition due to anthropogenic impact. Here we examined if changes in ecotone location or properties can be used as reliable indicators of hydrological change in temperate wetland communities. We examined 38 woodland-wetland-woodland transitions, distributed across four sites with different anthropogenic disturbance histories and hydrological traits. We tested whether: 1) the ecotones are associated with environmental gradients, and 2) the location or properties of these ecotones change with disturbance history. Well-defined ecotones were associated with steep gradients in soil depth and soil moisture. Most ecotones showed a change in vegetation from hydrophytic to dryland species. There was also some evidence that in highly disturbed sites the link between ecotones and environmental gradients was less apparent. By sampling across boundaries we can better understand the factors controlling the distribution of species. This allows us to make better predictions about the impacts of anthropogenic change in wetland communities. By investigating the transitions between different vegetation communities we were able to highlight key indicators that could be used to monitor these ecologically sensitive and diverse wetland communities.