Plants go with the flow predicting spatial distribution of plant species in the boreal forest

University dissertation from Umeå : Ekologi och geovetenskap

Abstract: The main objectives of this thesis are to study if a topographic wetness index (TWI) could be used as a tool for predicting the spatial distribution of vascular plant species richness in the boreal forest as well as to study congruence in species richness between vascular plants, liverworts, mosses and lichens. A wetness index ln(a/tan?) based on topography was used to assign a specific TWI-value to every 20 x 20m grid in two 25 km2 boreal forest landscapes (differing in average soil pH) in northern Sweden. Soil pH is known to be influenced by groundwater and to affect plant species richness in other biomes. Therefore, the relationships between plant species richness, TWI and soil pH were also studied. The results showed that the majority of the investigated boreal forest landscapes were relatively dry and species-poor, whereas interspersed patches linked to areas with relatively high TWI had species-rich vegetation including the species of the drier parts of the landscape. There was a positive relationship between species richness of vascular plants and the TWI in both landscapes, but varied with average soil pH. TWI explained 30 % and 52 % of the variation in plant species richness in the landscape with lower and higher pH, respectively. The proportion of regionally uncommon plants also increased with TWI. Testing different calculation methods of the TWI resulted in a large variation in correlation strengths between the various TWI-values and different measured variables (species richness of vascular plants, soil pH, groundwater flow and soil moisture). The relationship between plant species richness and TWI could be further improved with some of the calculation methods. When studying correlations in species richness using data sets from boreal forest in northern Sweden, strong positive correlations among vascular plants, mosses and liverworts were found, but no significant correlation between macrolichens and any of the other groups. This result could be explained by that the species number of each of the three related groups increases with ambient moisture, whereas the species number of macrolichens is weakly associated with moisture. In conclusion, the TWI could become a useful tool in conservation management for identifying areas of special interest prior to field inventories. Since vascular plants can be used as an indicator taxon for species richness of mosses and liverworts, high TWI-values indicate areas of species hotspots of these taxa.