1. Hydroperiod, wetland size and land use of watersheds surrounding wetlands have important individual influences on plant communities in wetlands. Our objectives were to determine the effect and relative importance of local and landscape factors on plant species richness, diversity and composition of different functional groups (i.e. total, wetland-dependent, perennial, annual and exotic species) in recently inundated playa wetlands.
2. We surveyed plant communities in 80 wet playas in the Southern High Plains, USA, and measured local factors: water depth, playa volume loss, sediment depth and playa area. We included landscape variables within 3 km: number of playas, edge density, percentage urban area and percentage Conservation Reserve Program area (CRP; conversion from highly erodible cropland to mostly introduced perennial grassland). We also recorded dominant land use as native grassland or cropland.
3. Water depth negatively influenced all plant community metrics (i.e. richness, diversity and cover) while playa volume loss (sediment eroded from watershed filling the basin) had a negative influence on total, wetland-dependent and perennial richness and cover. Playas with more cropland within their watersheds had greater annual and exotic richness and cover, suggesting that agricultural activities within playa watersheds have changed plant composition and facilitated biological invasion.
4. Playa area was less important in predicting plant community metrics in playas. Although not as dominant as local variables, edge density had a positive influence on species richness. Other landscape factors such as number of playas, percentage urban area and percentage CRP area were less important and consistent among different plant community metrics.
5. Synthesis and applications. Our results show that continued unsustainable sedimentation will result in loss of perennial species and promotion of exotic and annual species in playas. Watershed management to limit unsustainable sedimentation has the potential to maintain original playa plant communities dominated by perennial/native species and should also reduce the loss of playa functionality.