, Volume 75, Issue 3, pp 385-397
Date: 27 Nov 2012

Is net ecosystem production higher in natural relative to constructed wetlands?

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Ecosystem metabolism is an important measure of wetland restoration efficiency, and serves to indicate if the system is capable of processing energetic resources. Despite its value, ecosystem metabolism has rarely been included in monitoring programs. In this study, we aimed to achieve the following objectives: (i) compare net ecosystem production (NEP) rates of constructed vs. natural wetlands; (ii) identify the highest NEP rate habitats; and (iii) define the main environmental factors regulating NEP in different wetland types. Pelagic and benthic NEP rates and physicochemical features were measured in three natural and five constructed wetlands in the middle Ebro River floodplain (NE Spain). Statistical analyses showed pelagic NEP rates peaked in natural wetlands, which produced up to 187.5 mg C m−3 h−1 compared to lower rates in constructed wetlands (up to 46.2 mg C m−3 h−1). Pelagic NEP responded positively to temperature, total dissolved solids, and nutrients. Benthic NEP rates were 3 to 30-fold greater than pelagic in natural (up to 994.9 mg C m−3 h−1) and constructed (up to 1,551.5 mg C m−3 h−1) wetlands, and were heavily influenced by habitat type, with NEP peaking in areas dominated by submerged vegetation and fine organic sediment. Rapid recovery in aquatic communities (i.e. macroinvertebrate diversity) has been previously reported for the studied wetlands; however, our study suggests a slower recovery of functional processes (i.e. pelagic NEP) in constructed habitats. We therefore strongly advocate the inclusion of ecosystem function in the design and evaluation of restoration projects to optimise long-term wetland ecosystem sustainability.