Hydroperiod regime controls the organization of plant species in wetlands
With urban, agricultural, and industrial needs growing throughout the past decades, wetland ecosystems have experienced profound changes. Most critically, the biodiversity of wetlands is intimately linked to its hydrologic dynamics, which in turn are being drastically altered by ongoing climate changes. Hydroperiod regimes, e. g., percentage of time a site is inundated, exert critical control in the creation of niches for different plant species in wetlands. However, the spatial signatures of the organization of plant species in wetlands and how the different drivers interact to yield such signatures are unknown. Focusing on Everglades National Park (ENP) in Florida, we show here that cluster sizes of each species follow a power law probability distribution and that such clusters have well-defined fractal characteristics. Moreover, we individuate and model those signatures via the interplay between global forcings arising from the hydroperiod regime and local controls exerted by neighboring vegetation. With power law clustering often associated with systems near critical transitions, our findings are highly relevant for the management of wetland ecosystems. In addition, our results show that changes in climate and land management have a quantifiable predictable impact on the type of vegetation and its spatial organization in wetlands.