Woody plant communities along urban, suburban, and rural streams in Louisville, Kentucky, USA.
Anthropogenic changes in land use and cover (LULC) in stream catchments can alter the composition of riparian plant communities, which can affect ecosystem functions of riparian areas and streams from local to landscape scales. We conducted a study to determine if woody plant species composition and abundance along headwater streams were correlated with categorical and continuous LULC and environmental variables along an urban-to-rural gradient. These variables were calculated at different spatial scales (subcatchment level and within 0.5 and 1 km radii of plots) and used % impervious surface cover (ISC) and finer scale LULC classification levels to determine their ability to explain species composition, diversity, abundance, non-native provenance and wetland indicator status of four plant strata-canopy tree, tree sapling, tree seedling and shrub. At all scales, we found distinct riparian woody communities within land-use categories, with significant differences among shrub species. Fine-scale land-cover variables correlated with species composition of shrub, tree sapling and tree seedling strata, but not the canopy tree stratum. Celtis occidentalis and Acer negundo were ubiquitous but dominated riparian areas surrounded by development, while Asimina triloba was associated with forested rural riparian banks. Non-native shrubs, Lonicera maackii and Euonymus alatus, were indicative of areas surrounded by development, while the native shrub, Lindera benzoin, was associated with deciduous forest. Negative factor-ceiling relationships between canopy tree, sapling and tree seedling densities and % ISC were found, with abrupt declines above approximately 30% ISC. Facultative wetland shrubs were not found above 30% ISC. Streambank height, which was strongly negatively correlated with depth to the water table and positively correlated with cumulative catchment area, was negatively correlated with facultative wetland tree and shrub species. In addition, riparian tree sapling and seedling densities declined as the abundance of Lonicera maackii increased.