Species composition of forested natural communities near freshwater hydrological features in an urbanizing watershed of west-central Florida
Natural communities near freshwater hydrological features provide important ecosystem functions and services. As human populations increase, forested landscapes become increasingly fragmented and deforested, which may result in a loss of the functions and services they provide. To investigate the current state of forested natural communities in the rapidly urbanizing Tampa Bay Watershed, this study examined a systematic random sample of fixed radius 0.04 hectare (0.10 acre) plots that were located within 15.2 meters of a hydrologic feature. These 85 plots were further stratified based on site legacy, and were categorized into three groups: remnant (43 plots), emergent (23 plots), and altered (19 plots). A hierarchical agglomerative cluster analysis identified plots that were most similar to one another within each group. These clusters were then compared to Florida Natural Area Inventory (FNAI) descriptions of natural community types. A high degree of clusters in the remnant and emergent groups resembled natural community types, but variations in species composition and dominance also occurred. However, zero clusters in the altered group resembled natural community types, suggesting anthropogenic changes to the landscape have impacted natural plant community assemblages. Findings from this study fill a gap in our current understanding of how natural communities in the Tampa Bay Watershed differ from those in a non-urban context.