Geographically isolated wetlands (GIWs) are common features of the Dougherty Plain physiographic region in southwestern Georgia. Due to lack of protection at the state and federal levels, these wetlands are threatened by intensive agricultural and silvicultural land uses common in the region. Recently, the ecological condition of such GIWs was assessed for the southeastern United States using the Landscape Development Intensity Index (LDI), a practical assessment tool that relies on remotely sensed land use and land cover (LULC) data surrounding isolated wetlands to rapidly predict wetland condition. However, no assessments have been attempted for GIWs in the Dougherty Plain specifically. Our goal was to develop a framework to guide and refine remote assessment of wetland condition within this agriculturally intense region of the southeastern USA. In this study, we characterized human disturbances associated with isolated wetlands in the Dougherty Plain, and paired the rapid assessment of GIWs using LDI with an intensive assessment of wetland plant communities. Specifically, we: (1) examined how macrophyte assemblages and vegetation metrics vary across a human disturbance gradient in the Dougherty Plain; (2) compared multiple condition assessment outcomes using variations of the LDI method that differed in spatial extent and resolution of LULC categories; and (3) determined the predicted condition of GIWs in the Dougherty Plain as indexed by LDI and compared with region-wide assessments of GIWs of the southeastern USA. Generally, the relationship between wetland plant communities and surrounding land use supported the assumptions of the LDI index in that wetlands surrounded by agricultural land use classes featured distinct plant communities relative to those surrounded by forested land use classes. Our results indicated that finer spatial resolution of LULC data improved the predictive ability of LDI. However, based on incongruence between wetland vegetation composition and LDI scores in some forested landscapes, this study identified limitations of the LDI assessment method, particularly when applied in regions in which prescribed fire is an important ecological driver of vegetation and habitat. Thus, we conclude that LDI may be biased toward an overestimation of reference condition GIWs, even though the habitat may be functionally degraded by the absence of natural processes such as fire. Regardless, relative to the assessment of the entire southeastern US, a greater proportion of total GIWs of the Dougherty Plain were identified as impaired due to the intensity of irrigated agricultural land use.
Authors and Publishers
Stuber, O. Stribling
L. Katherine Kirkman
Glenn I. Martin
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