The Floristic Quality Index (FQI) has been proposed as a tool that can be used to identify areas of high conservation value, monitor sites over time, assess the anthropogenic impacts affecting an area, and measure the ecological condition of an area. FQI is based on the Coefficient of Conservatism (C), which is a numerical score assigned to each plant species in a local flora, primarily from best professional judgment, that reflects the likelihood that a species is found in natural habitats. FQI is computed by multiplying the mean Coefficient of Conservatism (C) by the square root of species richness for an observational unit. Great Lakes coastal wetlands were used to assess the properties and performance of various species richness, Coefficient of Conservatism, and Floristic Quality indices, as well as compare C-value assignments from two U.S. states (Wisconsin and Michigan). FQI and species richness increased with sampling area according to a power function, but C more or less remained constant. Sampling schemes should therefore focus on controlling sampling area and minimally sampling each community type at a site. In some cases, Wisconsin and Michigan assigned different values of C to the same species, highlighting possible effects due to the somewhat subjective nature of C-value assignment. Coefficient of Conservatism and Floristic Quality indices were better at discriminating differences between sites, independent of a condition gradient, than species richness alone, but neither index type outperformed the other. Both types of indices were also found to be acceptable ecological indicators of condition, although Floristic Quality indices consistently outperformed Coefficient of Conservatism indices in this capacity. Regardless of the subjectivity involved with the assignment of C-values and that ‘floristic quality’ is a human concept and not a true ecosystem property, both Coefficient of Conservatism and Floristic Quality indices seem to be effective indicators of condition in Great Lakes coastal wetlands.
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Vol. 26 • No. 3