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Large-extent vegetation datasets that co-occur with long-term hydrology data provide new ways to develop biologically meaningful hydrologic variables and to determine plant community responses to hydrology. We analyzed the suitability of different hydrological variables to predict vegetation in two water conservation areas (WCAs) in the Florida Everglades, USA, and developed metrics to define realized hydrologic optima and tolerances. Using vegetation data spatially co-located with long-term hydrological records, we evaluated seven variables describing water depth, hydroperiod length, and number of wet/dry events; each variable was tested for 2-, 4- and 10-year intervals for Julian annual averages and environmentally-defined hydrologic intervals. Maximum length and maximum water depth during the wet period calculated for environmentally-defined hydrologic intervals over a 4-year period were the best predictors of vegetation type. Proportional abundance of vegetation types along hydrological gradients indicated that communities had different realized optima and tolerances across WCAs. Although in both WCAs, the trees/shrubs class was on the drier/shallower end of hydrological gradients, while slough communities occupied the wetter/deeper end, the distribution ofCladium, Typha, wet prairie and Salix communities, which were intermediate for most hydrological variables, varied in proportional abundance along hydrologic gradients between WCAs, indicating that realized optima and tolerances are context-dependent.


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