Aim To evaluate the role of island isolation in explaining the distribution of vascular plant species in a dense freshwater archipelago, specifically comparing conventional measures of island isolation with landscape measures of island isolation.
Location Data were collected from 35 islands within Massasauga Provincial Park on the eastern shores of the Georgian Bay, Ontario, Canada.
Methods Sampled islands were located using stratified random selection based on location and size variation. The number of species was recorded along stratified random transects. Island isolation variables included distance to the mainland, distance to the nearest island, largest gap in a stepping-stone sequence, distance to the closest upwind point of land, and a landscape measure of island isolation. The landscape measure of isolation was quantified as the percentage of the land area within 100, 250, 500, 1000, 1500 and 2000 m of each island’s perimeter. The isolation variables were calculated within a geographical information system (GIS). Dependent variables in the regression analyses included species richness, the logarithm of species richness and residuals of the species–area relationship. Independent variables included island isolation variables and their logarithmic transformations.
Results Isolation plays a role, albeit small, in explaining species richness in the study area. In the regression analyses, the landscape measure of isolation provided a better fit than conventional measures of island isolation. Islands with less land than water within a 250-m buffer were more effectively isolated and had fewer species present than islands surrounded by a greater proportion of water.
Main conclusions Consistent with the species–isolation relationship, fewer species were present on more isolated islands within the Massasauga study area, as elucidated using a series of island buffers in a GIS. Applying a landscape measure of isolation to similar dense, freshwater archipelagos may elucidate species–isolation patterns not evident through conventional, straight-line distance measurements of island isolation. The low value of the regression coefficients as well as the isolation history and high density of the Massasauga islands suggests caution in extending the results, especially to dissimilar archipelagos.