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Ecological Outcomes and Evaluation of Success in Passively Restored Southeastern Depressional Wetlands

Abstract

Depressional wetlands may be restored passively by disrupting prior drainage to recover original hydrology and relying on natural revegetation. Restored hydrology selects for wetland vegetation; however, depression geomorphology constrains the achievable hydroperiod, and plant communities are influenced by hydroperiod and available species pools. Such constraints can complicate assessments of restoration success. Sixteen drained depressions in South Carolina, USA, were restored experimentally by forest clearing and ditch plugging for potential crediting to a mitigation bank. Depressions were assigned to alternate revegetation methods representing desired targets of herbaceous and wet-forest communities. After five years, restoration progress and revegetation methods were evaluated. Restored hydroperiods differed among wetlands, but all sites developed diverse vegetation of native wetland species. Vegetation traits were influenced by hydroperiod and the effects of early drought, rather than by revegetation method. For mitigation banking, individual wetlands were assessed for improvement from pre-restoration condition and similarity to assigned reference type. Most wetlands met goals to increase hydroperiod, herb-species dominance, and wetland-plant composition. Fewer wetlands achieved equivalence to reference types because some vegetation targets were incompatible with depression hydroperiods and improbable without intensive management. The results illustrated a paradox in judging success when vegetation goals may be unsuited to system constraints.

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Acknowledgments

We sincerely thank John Blake, U.S. Forest Service–Savannah River, for sustained dedication to overall project management, and also Randy Kolka and Don Imm for their early contributions. For field assistance, we especially thank J. Singer, J. Mulhouse, L. Lee, P. Stankus, A. Harrison, and A. Lowrance. T. Dell and R. Souter advised on statistics. Comments by B. Collins, R. Kolka, and several reviewers and editors greatly improved the manuscript. Funding was provided by the DOE–Savannah River Operations Office (Agreements DE-IA09-76SR00056 and DE-IA09-00SR22188 with the USFS–Savannah River), the DOE Office of Biological and Environmental Research (Award DE-FC09-96SR18546 to The Univ. of Georgia Research Foundation), and by Cooperative Agreements with the USFS–Savannah River (01-CA-11083600-011, 03-CS-11083600-002) and the Center for Forested Wetlands Research (01-CA-11330135-457).

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Correspondence to Diane De Steven.

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De Steven, D., Sharitz, R.R. & Barton, C.D. Ecological Outcomes and Evaluation of Success in Passively Restored Southeastern Depressional Wetlands. Wetlands 30, 1129–1140 (2010). https://doi.org/10.1007/s13157-010-0100-4

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Keywords

  • Carolina bay
  • Mitigation bank
  • Vegetation dynamics
  • Wetland restoration