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Keywords:

  • creation;
  • functional equivalency;
  • restoration;
  • salt marsh;
  • trajectory;
  • wetland

Abstract

A growing number of studies have assessed the functional equivalency of restored and natural salt marshes. Several of these have explored the use of functional trajectories to track the increase in restored marsh function over time; however, these studies have disagreed as to the usefulness of such models in long-term predictions of restored marsh development. We compared indicators of four marsh functions (primary production, soil organic matter accumulation, sediment trapping, and maintenance of plant communities) in 6 restored and 11 reference (matched to restored marshes using principal components analysis) salt marshes in the Great Bay Estuary. The restored marshes were all constructed and planted on imported substrate and ranged in age from 1 to 14 years. We used marsh age in a space-for-time substitution to track constructed salt marsh development and explore the use of trajectories. A high degree of variability was observed among natural salt marsh sites, displaying the importance of carefully chosen reference sites. As expected, mean values for constructed site (n = 6) and reference site (n = 11) functions were significantly different. Using constructed marsh age as the independent variable and functional indicator values as dependent variables, nonlinear regression analyses produced several ecologically meaningful trajectories (r 2> 0.9), demonstrating that the use of different-aged marshes can be a viable approach to developing functional trajectories. The trajectories illustrated that although indicators of some functions (primary production, sediment deposition, and plant species richness) may reach natural site values relatively quickly (<10 years), others (soil organic matter content) will take longer.