Urbanization and wetland communities: applying metacommunity theory to understand the local and landscape effects.

Published online
13 Feb 2013
Content type
Journal article
Journal title
Journal of Applied Ecology

Johnson, P. T. J. & Hoverman, J. T. & McKenzie, V. J. & Blaustein, A. R. & Richgels, K. L. D.
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Publication language
USA & Colorado


Urbanization is a growing threat to ecological communities and has become a leading cause of population extirpations in a wide range of taxa. Because the effects of urbanization are often multifaceted, identifying the pathways through which changes in communities occur has remained a persistent challenge. We draw upon metacommunity theory to evaluate competing explanations for the effects of urbanization, focusing on the relative importance of processes at local (e.g. abiotic and biotic characteristics) and regional (e.g. habitat connectivity and dispersal) scales. Over 4 years, we sampled 201 wetlands in the Front Range region of Colorado, which is one of the most rapidly developing areas in the USA. Wetlands embedded within urban areas exhibited significantly lower taxonomic richness and diversity compared to those in agricultural or grassland areas. Relative to grassland wetlands, urban wetlands supported a 60% lower richness of amphibians and aquatic reptiles and a 33% lower richness of aquatic insects, molluscs and crayfish. These patterns were associated with changes in biotic factors (introduced fishes and bullfrogs), abiotic factors (nutrients, conductivity and vegetation) and landscape characteristics (road density and surrounding wetland area). The use of an information-theoretic approach and structural equation modelling suggested that the effects of urbanization on richness were mainly driven by changes in road density. Analyses of community composition indicated that discrete communities formed along the urban systems gradient, such that actively dispersing predators associated more negatively with urban system relative to herbivores with passive dispersal. Synthesis and applications. These results highlight the importance of considering both local and regional factors in addressing conservation-related challenges and underscore the benefits of linking conceptual work on metacommunity theory with applied efforts to mitigate the effects of urbanization.

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