Environmental ranges discriminating between macrophytes groups in European rivers

Riverine macrophytes form distinct species groups. Their occurrence is determined by environmental gradients, e.g. in terms of physico-chemistry and hydromorphology. However, the ranges of environmental variables discriminating between species groups (“discriminatory ranges”) have rarely been quantified and mainly been based on expert judgement, thus limiting options for predicting and assessing ecosystem characteristics. We used a pan-European dataset of riverine macrophyte surveys obtained from 22 countries including data on total phosphorus, nitrate, alkalinity, flow velocity, depth, width and substrate type. Four macrophyte species groups were identified by cluster analysis based on species’ co-occurrences. These comprised Group 1) mosses, such as Amblystegium fluviatile and Fontinalis antipyretica, Group 2) shorter and pioneer species such as Callitriche spp., Group 3) emergent and floating species such as Sagittaria sagittifolia and Lemna spp., and Group 4) eutraphent species such as Myriophyllum spicatum and Stuckenia pectinata. With Random Forest models, the ranges of environmental variables discriminating between these groups were estimated as follows: 100–150 μg L-1 total phosphorus, 0.5–20 mg L-1 nitrate, 1–2 meq L-1 alkalinity, 0.05–0.70 m s-1 flow velocity, 0.3–1.0 m depth and 20–80 m width. Mosses were strongly related to coarse substrate, while vascular plants were related to finer sediment. The four macrophyte groups and the discriminatory ranges of environmental variables fit well with those described in literature, but have now for the first time been quantitatively approximated with a large dataset, suggesting generalizable patterns applicable at regional and local scales.


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