Abiotic and biotic correlates of the occurrence, extent and cover of invasive aquatic Elodea nuttallii

Kate Crane, Louise Kregting, Neil E. Coughlan, Ross N. Cuthbert, Anthony Ricciardi, Hugh J. MacIsaac, Jaimie T.A. Dick, Neil Reid

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1. Biological invasions, especially invasive alien aquatic plants, are a major and growing ecological and socioeconomic problem worldwide. Freshwater systems are particularly vulnerable to invasion, where impacts of invasive alien species can damage ecological structure and function. Identifying abiotic and biotic factors that mediate successful invasions is a management priority. Our aim was to determine the environmental correlates of Elodea nuttallii; a globally significant invasive aquatic species.
2. Elodea nuttallii presence/absence (occurrence), extent (patch area) and percentage cover (density) was visually assessed from a boat throughout Lough Erne (approximately 144 km2), County Fermanagh, Northern Ireland during the active summer growth season (July–September). In addition, substrate type and zebra mussel Dreissena polymorpha occurrence was recorded. Fourteen water chemistry variables were collected monthly from 12 recording stations throughout the lake during the 9 years before the survey to spatially interpolate values and establish temporal trajectories in their change. Shoreline land use was derived from CORINE land cover maps. Environmental associations between E. nuttallii, substrate, D. polymorpha, water chemistry and land use were assessed.
3. Elodea nuttallii occurrence was positively associated with water conductivity, alkalinity, suspended solids, phosphorus (both total and soluble) and chlorophyll-a concentrations, but negatively associated with pH and total oxidised nitrogen. E. nuttallii patch extent and proportional cover were positively associated, to varying degrees, with the presence of D. polymorpha, biological oxygen demand, water clarity and soft substrate, but negatively associated with urban development and ammonium.
4. Elodea nuttallii displayed high levels of phenotypic plasticity in response to environmental variation, allowing it to adapt to a wide range of conditions and potentially gain competitive advantage over native or other invasive macrophytes.
5. It is evident that multiple abiotic and biotic factors, including facilitation by co-occurring invasive dreissenid mussels, interact to influence the distribution and abundance of E. nuttallii. Thus, it is necessary to consider a more comprehensive environmental context when planning Elodea management strategies.
Original languageEnglish
JournalFreshwater Biology
Early online date01 Jul 2022
Publication statusEarly online date - 01 Jul 2022


  • Competition
  • Dreissena polymorpha
  • Freshwater ecosystems
  • Macrophytes
  • Nutrients


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