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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Changes in grassland community composition at human-induced edges in the south Okanagan Gieselman, Tanis M.


The grasslands of the Okanagan Valley, in southern British Columbia, Canada, are under intense development pressure. Alteration of biotic and abiotic conditions at the edges of remnant habitat patches is one of the key consequences of habitat fragmentation. Such edge effects likely diminish nonlinearly with increased distance from the edge, and significant changes are expected to be greater than the natural spatial variation within the interior of a habitat patch. Furthermore, habitat adjacent to more intensively managed areas, like paved roads and fruit crops, should be more affected at the edge than habitat fragmented by less intensively managed areas, like dirt roads. I used nonlinear canonical analysis of principal coordinates (NCAP), which characterizes nonlinear gradients in species composition, to test if edge effects were present in grassland communities next to roads and cropland. Variation partitioning was also used to determine the relative importance of key environmental factors in predicting compositional change at edges. Nonlinear shifts in community composition were more frequent at the edges of paved roads and fruit crops than at control sites in the interior of grassland patches. On average, 90% of the compositional change occurred within 28 m of the edge. Variation partitioning suggested that nonlinear responses at developed edges were due to true edge effects and not natural gradients, since a significant proportion of the nonlinear change in community composition was related to distance from the edge independently of the soil environmental variables at all types of human-developed edges, but not at the control site. The soil factors that best predicted compositional changes were soil pH and Cu/Mn at paved roads, soil pH and mineralizable N at the edges of fruit crops, and soil resistance at the edges of dirt roads, while soil texture and mobile cations best explained community variation at one control site with a significant nonlinear gradient. Comparisons between edge and interior plots revealed decreased cryptogam cover and an increase in the proportion of exotic species at the edges, but changes were significant only at paved roads. In sum, biotic and abiotic edge effects were present in the selected grasslands, particularly at roadsides.

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