, Volume 23, Issue 2, pp 344-356

Comparison of wetland structural characteristics between created and natural salt marshes in southwest Louisiana, USA

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Abstract

The use of dredge material is a well-known technique for creating or restoring salt marshes that is expected to become more common along the Gulf of Mexico coast in the future. However, the effectiveness of this restoration method is still questioned. Wetland structural characteristics were compared between four created and three natural salt marshes in southwest Louisiana, USA. The created marshes, formed by the pumping of dredge material into formerly open water areas, represent a chronosequence, ranging in age from 3 to 19 years. Vegetation and soil structural factors were compared to determine whether the created marshes become more similar over time to the natural salt marshes. Vegetation surveys were conducted in 1997, 2000, and 2002 using the line-intercept technique. Site elevations were measured in 2000. Organic matter (OM) was measured in 1996 and 2002, while bulk density and soil particle-size distribution were determined in 2002 only. The natural marshes were dominated by Spartina alterniflora, as were the oldest created marshes; these marshes had the lowest mean site elevations (<30 cm NGVD). The six-year-old created marsh (formed in 1996) was higher in elevation (> 35 cm NGVD) and became dominated by high marsh (S. patens, Distichlis spicata) and shrub (Baccharis halimifolia, Iva frutescens) species. The higher elevation marsh seems to be following a different plant successional trajectory than the other marshes, indicating a relationship between marsh elevation and species composition. The soils in both the created and natural marshes contain high levels of clays (30–65 %), with sand comprising < 1 % of the soil distribution. OM was significantly greater and bulk density significantly lower in two of the natural marshes when compared to the created marshes. The oldest created marsh had significantly greater OM than the younger created marshes, but it may still take several decades before equivalency is reached with the natural marshes. Vegetation structural characteristics in the created marshes take only a few years to become similar to those in the natural marshes, just so long as the marshes are formed at a proper elevation. This agrees with other studies from North Carolina and Texas. However, it will take several decades for the soil characteristics to reach equivalency with the natural marshes, if they ever will.