Recommended Design for More Accurate Duplication of Natural Conditions in Salt Marsh Creation
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Construction of 653 ha of salt marsh habitat from dredged material near the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge, Texas, has been proposed, with the goal of increasing the area of habitat available to endangered whooping cranes (Grus americana). We assessed prototype created wetlands, and their similarity to natural reference sites, in terms of topography, vegetation, and hydrology. The created sites were steeply sloped relative to natural sites and were dominated by monotypic stands of Spartina alterniflora. Natural sites were dominated by vegetation more tolerant of desiccation and hypersalinity and by unvegetated salt pans. Differences in vegetation communities and distributions of habitat types resulted from efforts to enhance habitat diversity in created marsh cells through manipulation of marsh topography. However, the scale at which this diversity occurred in natural marsh of the study area was not considered. When constructing wetlands in cellular configurations, we recommend creation of large complexes of adjoining, hydrologically linked, cells wherein the desired habitat diversity is created at the scale of the entire complex, rather than within a single cell. Suggested design modifications would increase the similarity of created marshes to natural reference sites, potentially improving habitat function.
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