Characterization of microtopography and its influence on vegetation patterns in created wetlands

  • Moser K
  • Ahn C
  • Noe G
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Created wetlands are increasingly used to mitigate wetland loss. Thus, identifying wetland creation methods that enhance ecosystem development might increase the likelihood of mitigation success. Noting that the microtopographic variation found in natural wetland settings may not commonly be found in created wetlands, this study explores relationships between induced microtopography, hydrology, and plant species richness/diversity in non-tidal freshwater wetlands, comparing results from two created wetland complexes with those from a mature reference wetland complex in northern Virginia. Elevation, steel rod oxidation depth, and species cover were measured along replicate multiscale (0.5 m-, 1 m-, 2 m-, and 4 m-diameter) tangentially conjoined circular transects in each wetland. Microtopography was surveyed using a total station and results used to derive three roughness indices: tortuosity, limiting slope, and limiting elevation difference. Steel rod oxidation depth was used to estimate water table depth, with data collected four times during the growing season for each study site. Plant species cover was estimated visually in 0.2 m2 plots surveyed at peak growth and used to assess species richness, diversity, and wetland prevalence index. Differences in each attribute were examined among disked and non-disked created wetlands and compared to a natural wetland as a reference. Disked and non-disked created wetlands differed in microtopography, both in terms of limiting elevation difference and tortuosity. However, both were within the range of microtopography encompassed by natural wetlands. Disked wetlands supported higher plant diversity and species richness than either natural or non-disked wetlands, as well as greater within-site species assemblage variability than non-disked wetlands. Irrespective of creation method, plant diversity in created wetlands was correlated with tortuosity and limiting elevation difference, similar to correlations observed for natural wetlands. Vegetation was more hydrophytic at disked sites than at non-disked sites, and of equivalent wetland indicator status to natural sites, even though all sites appeared comparable in terms of hydrology. Results suggest that disking may enhance vegetation community development, thus better supporting the goals of wetland mitigation.

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  • Kurt Moser

  • Changwoo Ahn

  • Gregory Noe

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