Exotic and invasive aquatic plants in Great Lakes coastal wetlands: distribution and relation to watershed land use and plant richness and cover.
We use data from inundated-area surveys of 58 coastal wetlands spanning a gradient of anthropogenic impacts across all five Laurentian Great Lakes to describe the distribution of nine exotic and invasive taxa of aquatic plants. We found plants that were exotic or have invasive strains to be substantially more prevalent in wetlands in Lakes Erie and Ontario than in Lakes Superior and Huron, with Lake Michigan wetlands intermediate. Najas minor (slender naiad), Butomus umbellatus (flowering rush), and Hydrocharis morsus-ranae (European frogbit) were restricted to the lower lakes and rarely dominant. Myriophyllum spicatum (Eurasian milfoil), Potamogeton crispus (curly pondweed), Lythrum salicaria (purple loosestrife), Phalaris arundinacea (reed canary grass), Phragmites australis (common reed), and Typha sp. (cattail) were more widespread and except for P. crispus, often among the dominant taxa. None of the submerged or floating-leaf exotic taxa were associated with altered total plant cover or richness, although M. spicatum, P. crispus, and native Stuckenia pectinata (sago pondweed) were positively associated with agricultural intensity in the watershed (a surrogate for nutrient loading). Emergent P. australis, L. salicaria, and Typha were more likely to be present and dominant as agricultural intensity increased, and were associated with elevated emergent cover and decreased emergent genera richness. Effects of dominant taxa on plant cover and richness were readily detected using ordinal data from 100 m inundated segments but were harder to discern with data aggregated to the wetland scale. The sum of shoreline-wide abundance scores for four easily identified taxa (S. pectinata, P. australis, Typha, and L. salicaria) is proposed as a rapidly-measured indicator of anthropogenic disturbance across the Great Lakes.