Floristic quality assessment signals human disturbance over natural variability in a wetland system

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A common concern regarding the popular Floristic Quality Assessment (FQA) method is whether the site floristic quality scores change with natural temporal and site-specific variability. The more ignored question is whether this background variability will confound the index of human disturbance. Using non-forested seasonal wetlands in the northeastern United States, we tested if two common indices of site floristic quality (FQAI, Mean CoC) provide clear signals of site condition relative to gradients of wetland area and surface water depth, and consistent signals across time of year (early vs. late growing season), geomorphic setting (connected vs. isolated), and vegetation community type (pine barrens vernal pond, wet sedge meadow, shrub swamp). Mean CoC is the coefficient of conservatism (a qualitative estimate of species' sensitivity to human disturbance) averaged across the native and exotic taxa observed at a given site, and FQAI is the traditional Floristic Quality Assessment Index where Mean CoC is multiplied by square root of taxa richness. The FQAI did not linearly correspond to the site condition gradient and thus it could not be evaluated. Mean CoC was clearly associated with site condition, with no interference from wetland area or water level (based on computer-intensive resampling of linear model fit). Mean CoC also varied consistently with site condition between the surveys, geomorphic settings, and community types (based on computer-intensive resampling of linear model slope). However, connected wetlands showed inherently greater Mean CoC than isolated wetlands, suggesting a comparison of floristic quality between these categories would not be prudent. Overall this study suggests that FQA in the form of Mean CoC may withstand natural variability in certain non-forested wetland systems. Instead of assuming FQA is overly sensitive to natural variability, we recommend further efforts to identify situations in which FQA is robust.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)260-267
Number of pages8
JournalEcological Indicators
StatePublished - 2013


  • Conservatism
  • Ecological condition
  • Human disturbance
  • Monitoring
  • Seasonal wetlands
  • Vascular plants

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Decision Sciences(all)
  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Ecology


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