Skip to main content
U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government

Aquatic vegetation types identified during early and late phases of vegetation recovery in the Upper Mississippi River

March 19, 2023

Assemblage patterns and processes of aquatic vegetation in most large floodplain rivers are not well understood, particularly after plant recovery. Identifying vegetation types, which are recurring plant groupings based on species composition, diversity, and abundances, can describe plant assembly patterns and environmental drivers that aid conservation planning and management. We used a 22-year dataset (n = 18,000 sampling plots) to identify aquatic vegetation types during an “early phase” and “late phase” of plant recovery at multiple spatial scales nested within a 500-km river reach of the Upper Mississippi River, USA. We hypothesized that vegetation types varied according to scale because of the stark environmental differences among riverine habitats and differing regional species pools along the river's latitudinal gradient, and that the late phase of recovery had developed several new vegetation types. We first used cluster analyses at multiple spatiotemporal scales to identify the number of vegetation types and their characteristics, such as indicator species, species compositions and abundances, and diversity index. Then we applied a multivariate regression to pinpoint environmental factors (such as hydrodynamics, system productivity, local habitat, and water quality) that structured those vegetation types. Clustering revealed that ~90% of plots irrespective of recovery phase were not classified into vegetation types, which indicated that most aquatic sampling plots are unique in species composition and unpredictable. However, impounded areas upriver from dams had matured five vegetation types: lotus (Nelumbo lutea Willd.), submersed (a mix of 11 common submersed species), watercelery (Vallisneria americana Michx.), arrowheads (Sagittaria rigida Pursh and Sagittaria latifolia Willd.), and a diverse community (with high diversity indices and multiple life forms). The vegetation types were associated with three environmental gradients related to inundation depth and duration, system productivity, and water clarity. These five vegetation types are known to be of high ecological value to fish and wildlife and thus targets for restoration, for example, the watercelery community is principal forage for migrating canvasback ducks (Aythya valisineria) along the Mississippi River flyway. Our results provide insights on vegetation assembly during recovery and aid habitat conservation by providing quantitative, environmental targets for restoration.

Publication Year 2023
Title Aquatic vegetation types identified during early and late phases of vegetation recovery in the Upper Mississippi River
DOI 10.1002/ecs2.4468
Authors Danelle M. Larson, Alicia Carhart, Eric Lund
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Ecosphere
Index ID 70240999
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Upper Midwest Environmental Sciences Center