Question: Can GIS and GPS technology be used to quantify the hydrological regime of different plant communities on turloughs (groundwater dependent calcareous wetlands)?
Location: Skealoghan turlough, County Mayo, Ireland.
Methods: Plant communities were mapped and digitised with GIS software and a digital elevation model of the site was constructed from differential GPS data. Together with records of water level fluctuations on the site from May 2001 to May 2004, these data were used to calculate hydrological variables for each plant community. Hierarchical cluster analysis was used to identify groups of plant communities with similar hydrological regimes.
Results: 15 plant communities were mapped at Skealoghan, with the Cirsio-Molinietum and Ranunculo-Potentilletum anserinae being the dominant phytosociological associations. Skealoghan is subject to large temporal and spatial variation in its hydrological regime and fluctuations in water level are intrinsically linked to rainfall. The spatial variation in flooding can be linked to the vegetation zones.
Conclusions: GIS and DGPS technology can be used to quantify the hydrological regime of different plant communities on turloughs. Since the hydrological regime is a major environmental factor controlling the vegetation composition of the site, the maintenance of natural flooding regimes is a vital component for the conservation and management of the diverse vegetation mosaic at Skealoghan turlough.