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Tracking marsh restoration using macrobenthic metrics: implementing a functional approach


Attempts to understand ecological processes within restored saltmarsh ecosystems have increased dramatically in recent years; and it is now generally agreed that marsh restoration success should be gauged relative to the recovery of ecosystem function. Studies of macroinfaunal recovery in created marshes typically employ faunistic metrics to examine colonization and succession. Few studies employ macrobenthic functional metrics. Here, we present an evaluative approach employing macrobenthic functional metrics for use in marsh restoration studies in the context of a comparative study. To illustrate the approach, a four-way comparison of functional and faunistic metrics is made between intertidal Spartina and adjacent subtidal habitats and between a set of created marsh islands that have been established for 27 years and a set of nearby natural marsh islands within Davis Bay, Mississippi. The suite of functional metrics used in this study characterizes the macroinfauna in terms of biological production based and community maturity based attributes. Several production-based attributes (e.g., production potential, normalized biomass size spectrum (NBSS) intercept residuals, total abundance) differed between habitats and between created and natural sites; and community maturity based attributes (e.g., mean size, NBSS slope, faunal turnover rate) differed between habitats. Of the functional metrics, NBSS intercept residuals were most effective for discerning created and natural sites, followed by production potential and total abundance. Of the faunistic metrics, faunal diversity and dominance did not differ between created and natural sites; however evenness was higher at the created site. Diversity and evenness differed significantly between habitats; and dominance almost differed between habitats. Community structure (Bray–Curtis similarity) differed between habitats and between created and natural marshes. This study illustrates how macrobenthic functional metrics can be practical and informative for tracking marsh restoration success. Functional metrics deliver additional insights and appear to be more effective than faunistic metrics. Not only do these functional metrics fulfill the need to understand the role of benthic processes within the context of marsh restoration; they can be related appropriately to other aspects of ecosystem function.

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This paper presents research conducted by H.J. Ferguson in fulfillment of her M.S. degree in the Department of Coastal Sciences from the University of Southern Mississippi. While conducting her research, H.J. Ferguson was supported by the Mississippi Tidelands Public Trust Fund funded through the Mississippi Department of Marine Resources Contract No. FY04-0617. This work was also supported by a grant from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (U.S. EPA) Science to Achieve Results (STAR) Estuarine and Great Lakes (EaGLe) program through funding to the Consortium for Estuarine Ecoindicator Research for the Gulf of Mexico (CEER-GOM), U.S. EPA Agreement 329 R-82945801-0. Although the research was partly supported by the U.S. EPA, it has not been subjected to the agency’s required peer and policy review and therefore does not necessarily reflect the views of the agency and no official endorsement should be inferred. We thank P. Biber and S.E. LeCroy for their guidance and support as M.S. committee members. We also thank those who assisted with fieldwork: P. Biber, B.H. Comyns, M. Partyka, and M.S. Peterson. Assistance in obtaining sediment data was provided by the Geology Section of the University of Southern Mississippi Gulf Coast Research Laboratory. We thank the following people for help and support ranging from taxonomic assistance to administrative support:, J.D. Caldwell, J. Campbell, A. Guidry-Stricklin, A. Kennedy, J. McCelland, J. McDonald, H. Newby, T. McIllwain, A. Russell, N. Sharp, S. Turner, and K. VanderKooy.

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Correspondence to Chet F. Rakocinski.

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Ferguson, H.J., Rakocinski, C.F. Tracking marsh restoration using macrobenthic metrics: implementing a functional approach. Wetlands Ecol Manage 16, 277–289 (2008).

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  • Marsh restoration
  • Macrobenthic functional metrics
  • Macrobenthic faunistic metrics
  • Created marshes