Nutrient loading is a subtle, yet serious threat to the preservation of high diversity wetlands such as peatlands. Pathways of nutrient loading and impacts on plant diversity in a small peatland in New York State, USA were determined by collecting and analyzing a suite of hydrogeological, hydro-chemical, soil, and vegetation data. Piezometer clusters within an intensive network constituted hydro-chemical sampling points and focal points for randomly selected vegetation quadrats and soil-coring locations. Hydrogeological data and nutrient analyses showed that P and K loading occurred chiefly by means of overland flow from an adjacent farm field, whereas N loading occurred predominantly through ground-water flow from the farm field. Redundancy analysis and polynomial regression showed that nutrients, particularly total P in peat, total K in peat, extractable NH4-N, and NO3-N flux in ground water, were strongly negatively correlated with plant diversity measures at the site. No other environmental variables except vegetation measures associated with eutrophication demonstrated such a strong relationship with plant diversity. Nitrate loading over 4 mg m−2 day−1 was associated with low plant diversity, and Ca fluxes between 80 and 130 mg m−2 day−1 were associated with high plant diversity. Areas in the site with particularly low vascular plant and bryophyte species richness and Shannon-Wiener diversity (H′) occurred adjacent to the farm field and near a hillside spring. High H′ and species richness of vascular plants and bryophytes occurred in areas that were further removed from agriculture, contained no highly dominant vegetation, and were situated directly along the ground-water flow paths of springs. These areas were characterized by relatively constant water levels and consistent, yet moderate fluxes of base cations and nutrients. Overall, this study demonstrates that knowledge of site hydrogeology is crucial for determining potential pathways of nutrient loading and for developing relationships between nutrient inflows and wetland plant diversity.
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Vol. 22 • No. 2