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Field assessment of environmental factors constraining the development and expansion of Schoenoplectus californicus marsh at a California tidal freshwater restoration site


The effective restoration of wetland habitats requires understanding the establishment requirements, growth responses, and expansion dynamics of targeted plant species. This is particularly true when restoring areas that have been previously managed for other activities, such as agriculture, which can have legacy effects on the local environment. We investigated environmental factors (specifically hydrology and soil physicochemical conditions) that may influence the establishment, growth and expansion of Schoenoplectus californicus in a tidal freshwater marsh restoration site in the Sacramento–San Joaquin Delta, California, USA. This study site was previously leveed, drained, and utilized for agricultural production. A 1997 levee breach restored tidal connectivity and wetland vegetation has re-established in portions of the area. Our approach coupled an intensively-sampled transect study in S. californicus-dominated marshes with a spatially-extensive survey of S. californicus lateral expansion rates and elevation. Lateral expansion of S. californicus marsh edge was significantly less in lower elevation areas (0.61 ± 0.04 m NAVD88), whereas the marsh edge at higher elevations (0.84 ± 0.03 m NAVD88) exhibited greater expansion, often at rates greater than 1.0 m year−1. These elevation means correspond to percentages of time that the marsh surface was flooded of 100 and 94 %, respectively. Although marsh edge expansion was influenced by elevation and the resultant hydrology, other factors, such as physical exposure of marsh shorelines and compacted agricultural soils also appear to be important. However, once established, S. californicus appears to be able to ameliorate high soil bulk densities over time as the advancing marsh platform develops.

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Funding for this research was provided by the California Federal Bay Delta Program, Ecosystem Restoration Program. We would like to thank the California Department of Fish and Game for field assistance and logistical support. We would also like to thank other members of the BREACH III team for their efforts on this project as well as Michael Dupuis and Christine Pickens for invaluable field assistance.

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Correspondence to Mark W. Hester.

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Hester, M.W., Willis, J.M. & Sloey, T.M. Field assessment of environmental factors constraining the development and expansion of Schoenoplectus californicus marsh at a California tidal freshwater restoration site. Wetlands Ecol Manage 24, 33–44 (2016).

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  • Bulk density
  • Elevation
  • Environmental factors
  • Hydrology
  • Lateral expansion
  • Wetland restoration