Hydrologic disturbance can affect wetland and aquatic macrophyte communities by creating temporal changes in soil moisture or water depth. Such disturbances are natural and help maintain wetland diversity; however, anthropogenic changes in wetland hydrology may have negative effects on wetlands. Since plant communities respond to habitat alterations, observations of plant-community changes may be used to recognize effects of hydrologic disturbances that are otherwise not well understood. A number of plants, including Typha angustifolia (narrow-leaf cattail) and Lythrum salicaria (purple loosestrife), are recognized as disturbance species; they are often found in roadside ditches, in wetlands that have been partially drained, or in low areas that have been flooded. Other species commonly occur on mudflats exposed by lowering of water levels. In addition, wetland shrubs and trees invade or die as a result of draining or flooding. In more subtle terms, the relative composition of plant communities can change without the addition or loss of species, and zonation patterns may develop or change as a result of altered hydrology. Remote sensing (photointerpretation) and field vegetation studies, coupled with monitoring of water levels, are recommended for gaining an understanding of hydrologic disturbances in wetlands.
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Wetland and aquatic macrophytes as indicators of anthropogenic hydrologic disturbance