Estuaries and Coasts

, Volume 41, Supplement 1, pp 68–84 | Cite as

Spatial and Temporal Variation in Brackish Wetland Seedbanks: Implications for Wetland Restoration Following Phragmites Control

  • Eric L. G. Hazelton
  • Rebekah Downard
  • Karin M. Kettenring
  • Melissa K. McCormick
  • Dennis F. Whigham


Chesapeake Bay tidal wetlands are experiencing a broad-scale, aggressive invasion by the non-native, clonal grass Phragmites australis. The grass is often managed with herbicides in efforts to restore native plant communities and wildlife habitat. Management efforts, however, can act as a disturbance, resulting in increased light availability, potentially fostering reinvasion from soil seedbanks. If native vegetation establishes quickly from seedbanks, the site should have greater resiliency against invasion, while disturbed sites where native plants do not rapidly establish may be rapidly colonized by P. australis. We surveyed the soil seedbank of three vegetation cover types in five Chesapeake Bay subestuaries: areas where P. australis had been removed, where P. australis was left intact, and with native, reference vegetation. We determined the total germination, the proportion of the seedbank that was attributable to invasive species, the richness, the functional diversity, and the overall composition of the seedbanks in each of the cover types (i.e., plots). After 2 years of herbicide treatment in the P. australis removal plots, vegetation cover type impacted the total germination or the proportion of invasive species in the seedbank. In contrast, we also found that seedbank functional composition in tidal brackish wetlands was not influenced by vegetation cover type in most cases. Instead, plots within a subestuary had similar seedbank functional composition across the years and were composed of diverse functional groups. Based on these findings, we conclude that plant community recovery following P. australis removal is not seed-limited, and any lack of native vegetation recruitment is likely the result of yet-to-be-determined abiotic factors. These diverse seedbanks could lead to resilient wetland communities that could resist invasions. However, due to the prevalence of undesirable species in the seedbank, passive revegetation following invasive plant removal may speed up their re-establishment. The need for active revegetation will need to be assessed on a case-by-case basis to ensure restoration goals are achieved.


Invasive plant removal Seedbank Estuary Chesapeake Bay Phragmites Revegetation 



The authors would like to thank Eliza K McFarland and Christine B Rohal for conceptual support; and Jay O’Neill, Jenna Malek, and Andrew Keppel for field assistance. Susan Durham provided critical statistical support. We are grateful that Alec Hay provided greenhouse support throughout the study. The editors of Estuaries and Coasts and the external reviewers provided thoughtful and valuable advice, and this manuscript benefitted hugely from their input and suggestions. This work was supported by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Center for Sponsored Coastal Ocean Research (CSCOR) award number NA09NOS4780214. ELGH was funded in part by a Smithsonian Pre-doctoral Fellowship, a Delta Waterfowl Scholarship, Utah State University Ecology Center, USU Quinney College of Natural Resources, USU Department of Watershed Sciences, and the Society for Wetland Scientists.

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Copyright information

© Coastal and Estuarine Research Federation 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  • Eric L. G. Hazelton
    • 1
  • Rebekah Downard
    • 1
  • Karin M. Kettenring
    • 1
  • Melissa K. McCormick
    • 2
  • Dennis F. Whigham
    • 2
  1. 1.Ecology Center and Department of Watershed SciencesUtah State UniversityLoganUSA
  2. 2.Smithsonian Environmental Research CenterEdgewaterUSA

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