How robust are community-based plant bioindicators? Empirical testing of the relationship between Ellenberg values and direct environmental measures in woodland communities

Carpenter, William S ORCID: 0009-0001-9031-5561 and Goodenough, Anne E ORCID: 0000-0002-7662-6670 (2014) How robust are community-based plant bioindicators? Empirical testing of the relationship between Ellenberg values and direct environmental measures in woodland communities. Community Ecology, 15 (1). pp. 1-11. doi:10.1556/ComEc.15.2014.1.1

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There are several community-based bioindicator systems that use species presence or abundance data as proxies for environmental variables. One example is the Ellenberg system, whereby vegetation data are used to estimate environmental soil conditions. Despite widespread use of Ellenberg values in ecological research, the correlation between bioindicated values and actual values is often an implicit assumption rather than based on empirical evidence. Here, we correlate unadjusted and UK-adjusted Ellenberg values for soil moisture, pH, and nitrate in relation to direct environmental measures for 50 woodland sites in the UK, which were subject to repeat sampling. Our results show the accuracy of Ellenberg values is parameter specific; pH values were a good proxy for direct environmental measures but this was not true for soil moisture, when relationships were weak and non-significant. For nitrates, there were important seasonal differences, with a strong positive logarithmic relationship in the spring but a non-significant (and negative) correlation in summer. The UK-adjusted values were better than, or equivalent to, Ellenberg’s original ones, which had been quantified originally for Central Europe, in all cases. Somewhat surprisingly, unweighted values correlated with direct environmental measures better than did abundance-weighted ones. This suggests that the presence of rare plants can be highly important in accurate quantification of soil parameters and we recommend using an unweighted approach. However, site profiles created only using rare plants were inferior to profiles based on the whole plant community and thus cannot be used in isolation. We conclude that, for pH and nitrates, the Ellenberg system provides a useful estimate of actual conditions, but recalibration of moisture values should be considered along with the effect of seasonality on the efficacy of the system.

Item Type: Article
Article Type: Article
Uncontrolled Keywords: Bioindication, Nitrate, Moisture, pH, Soil parameters, Vegetation
Subjects: G Geography. Anthropology. Recreation > GE Environmental Sciences
Q Science > QH Natural history
Q Science > QK Botany
Divisions: Schools and Research Institutes > School of Education and Science
Research Priority Areas: Place, Environment and Community
Depositing User: Anne Goodenough
Date Deposited: 03 May 2016 14:01
Last Modified: 22 Sep 2023 13:15

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