Compensatory indirect effects of an herbicide on wetland communities
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The direct effects of large-scale disturbances are readily studied because their effects are often apparent and result in large changes to ecosystems. Direct effects can cascade through the ecosystem, leading to indirect effects that are often subtle and difficult to detect. Managing anthropogenic disturbances, such as chemical contamination, requires an understanding of both direct and indirect effects to predict, measure, and characterize the impact. Using a replicated whole-ecosystem experiment and path analyses (assesses the effects of a set of variables on a specified outcome, similar to multiple regression), we examined the direct and indirect effects of a glyphosate-based herbicide and nutrient enrichment on wetland communities. The latter did not impact any measured endpoints. The strongest drivers of macrophyte, benthic invertebrate, and amphibian assemblages were the ephemerality and the size of wetlands, factors which were not altered by herbicide applications. The herbicide had a direct negative effect on macrophyte cover, amphibian larval abundance, and the proportion of predatory benthic invertebrates. However, both amphibians and invertebrates were positively affected by the reduction in the macrophyte cover caused by the herbicide applications. The opposing directions of the direct and indirect effects lead to no net change in either group. The compensatory dynamics observed herein highlight the need for a better understanding of indirect effects pathways to determine whether common anthropogenic disturbances alter the ecological communities in small wetland ecosystems.
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