, Volume 11, Issue 2, pp 193-208

Ecosystem Recovery Across a Chronosequence of Restored Wetlands in the Platte River Valley

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Abstract

Wet meadows in the Platte River valley (PRV) consist of linear wetlands in mesic prairie matrix systems that have been degraded and diminished for agriculture. Restoration in this region is a widespread practice that involves land contouring and seeding native species, however ecosystem recovery following restoration has never been examined. We quantified recovery trajectories and rates of above- and belowground plant biomass, soil physical and chemical properties, and C and N pools in a chronosequence of six restored wet meadows in relation to three natural wetlands. Within each site, we sampled sloughs (deeper habitats) and adjacent margins (slightly higher elevation) for three consecutive years. Varying hydrologic regimes between habitats resulted in differential patterns in ecosystem measurements (bulk density, C mineralization) in both natural and restored wetlands. Total aboveground biomass (TAB), root biomass, root C and N storage, total soil C and N, microbial N, and extractable N increased with years restored in both margins and sloughs. The model predicted rates of increase did not differ between habitats, but elevations of linear regressions were higher in sloughs than margins for root N, total soil C, total soil N, MBN, and extractable total N (P < 0.05). Our results suggest that bulk density and soil organic matter (SOM) represent two useful, easily measured indices of ecosystem recovery, because they were correlated with many pools and fluxes of C and N. Furthermore, we conclude that most change in ecosystem structure and function during the first decade following restoration occurs in shallow soil depths, and ecosystem recovery varies with subtle differences in elevation and associated plant community structure.