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Fifteen Years of Vegetation and Soil Development after Brackish-Water Marsh Creation



Aboveground biomass, macro-organic matter (MOM), and wetland soil characteristics were measured periodically between 1983 and 1998 in a created brackish-water marsh and a nearby natural marsh along the Pamlico River estuary, North Carolina to evaluate the development of wetland vegetation and soil dependent functions after marsh creation. Development of aboveground biomass and MOM was dependent on elevation and frequency of tidal inundation. Aboveground biomass of Spartina alterniflora, which occupied low elevations along tidal creeks and was inundated frequently, developed to levels similar to the natural marsh (750 to 1,300 g/m2) within three years after creation. Spartina cynosuroides, which dominated interior areas of the marsh and was flooded less frequently, required 9 years to consistently achieve aboveground biomass equivalent to the natural marsh (600 to 1,560 g/m2). Aboveground biomass of Spartina patens, which was planted at the highest elevations along the terrestrial margin and seldom flooded, never consistently developed aboveground biomass comparable with the natural marsh during the 15 years after marsh creation. MOM (0 to 10 cm) generally developed at the same rate as aboveground biomass. Between 1988 and 1998, soil bulk density decreased and porosity and organic C and N pools increased in the created marsh. Like vegetation, wetland soil development proceeded faster in response to increased inundation, especially in the streamside zone dominated by S. alterniflora. We estimated that in the streamside and interior zones, an additional 30 years (nitrogen) to 90 years (organic C, porosity) are needed for the upper 30 cm of created marsh soil to become equivalent to the natural marsh. Wetland soil characteristics of the S. patens community along upland fringe will take longer to develop, more than 200 years. Development of the benthic invertebrate-based food web, which depends on organic matter enrichment of the upper 5 to 10 cm of soil, is expected to take less time. Wetland soil characteristics and functions of created irregularly flooded brackish marshes require longer to develop compared with regularly flooded salt marshes because reduced tidal inundation slows wetland vegetation and soil development. The hydrologic regime (regularly vs. irregularly flooded) of the “target” wetland should be considered when setting realistic expectations for success criteria of created and restored wetlands.