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Abstract

Measuring the success of wetland restoration efforts requires an assessment of the wetland plant community as it changes following restoration. But analyses of restored wetlands often include plant community data from only one time period. We studied the development of plant communities at 13 restored marshes in northern New York for 4 years, including 1 year prior to restoration and 3 years afterwards. Restored wetlands ranged in size from 0.23 to 1.70 ha. Four reference wetlands of similar basin morphology, soil type, and size (0.29–0.48 ha) that occurred naturally in the same area were studied as comparisons. Dike construction to restore hydrology disturbed the existing vegetation in some parts of the restored sites, and vegetation was monitored in both disturbed and undisturbed areas. Undisturbed areas within the restored sites, which were dominated by upland field grasses before restoration, developed wetland plant communities with lower wetland index values but comparable numbers of wetland plant species than the reference wetlands, and they lagged behind the reference sites in terms of total wetland plant cover. There were significantly more plant species valuable as food sources for wetland birds, and a significantly higher percent cover of these species, at the undisturbed areas of the restored sites than at the reference wetlands. Areas of the restored sites that were disturbed by dike construction, however, often developed dense, monospecific cattail stands. In general, the plant communities at restored sites became increasingly similar to those at the reference wetlands over time, but higher numbers of herbaceous plants developed at the restored sites, including food plants for waterfowl, rails, and songbirds. Differences in shrub cover will probably lessen as natural recolonization increases shrub cover at the restored sites. Natural recolonization appears to be an effective technique for restoring wetlands on abandoned agricultural fields with established plant cover, but it is less successful in areas where soil has been exposed by construction activity.