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A comparative analysis of wetland and riparian vegetation on Bureau of Land Management land in the western US


In 2011, the BLM deployed its first of three Assessment, Inventory, and Monitoring (AIM) programs as a large-scale, standardized ecological monitoring effort across the agency's land. The first two programs, known as Terrestrial AIM and Lotic AIM, were designed to sample all terrestrial and river ecosystems throughout the landscape. In 2019, the agency piloted its third AIM program, specifically targeting riparian areas and wetlands. This study addressed two main questions: 1) How do wetland and riparian areas sampled with the Terrestrial AIM program compare to those sampled with the Riparian and Wetland (R&W) AIM program, and 2) What are the drivers of plant community composition of the wetlands and riparian areas sampled on BLM land? I developed a set of criteria to identify sites sampled with Terrestrial AIM that had characteristics of wetlands or riparian areas. I then compared vegetation cover, floristic quality metrics, and species composition using nonmetric multidimensional scaling (NMDS) to those sites sampled with R&W AIM. R&W AIM sites had much greater foliar cover, hydrophytic species cover, and perennial cover, but Terrestrial sites had slightly higher floristic metric values. I similarly analyzed the R&W sites on their own, incorporating wetland-specific data that is collected with the new program. I found that sites that met the criteria to be classified as wetlands in the Terrestrial data were a distinct population from the sites sampled with R&W AIM. The main drivers of plant community composition among sites sampled with R&W AIM were elevation and the distribution of surface water, but impacts of grazing were also apparent. All sites assessed by both AIM programs had floristic quality metrics characteristic of highly impacted wetland systems. This study indicates the value of the new R&W AIM program for its ability to perform wetland-specific ecological monitoring, provide valuable data on the health of wetlands, and provide baseline condition that can help guide land management practices into the future.


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Bureau of Land Management
species composition
assessment inventory and monitoring


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