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Keywords:

  • dike removal;
  • estuary;
  • juvenile salmon;
  • restoration;
  • salt marsh;
  • wetland function

Abstract

For an estuarine restoration project to be successful it must reverse anthropogenic effects and restore lost ecosystem functions. Restoration projects that aim to rehabilitate endangered species populations make project success even more important, because if misjudged damage to already weakened populations may result. Determining project success depends on our ability to assess the functional state or “performance” and the trajectory of ecosystem development. Mature system structure is often the desired “end point” of restoration and is assumed to provide maximum benefit for target species; however, few studies have measured linkages between structure and function and possible benefits available from early recovery stages. The Salmon River estuary, Oregon, U.S.A., offers a unique opportunity to simultaneously evaluate several estuarine restoration projects and the response of the marsh community while making comparisons with a concurring undiked portion of the estuary. Dikes installed in three locations in the estuary during the early 1960s were removed in 1978, 1987, and 1996, creating a “space-for-time substitution” chronosequence. Analysis of the marsh community responses enables us to use the development state of the three recovering marshes to determine a trajectory of estuarine recovery over 23 years and to make comparisons with a reference marsh. We assessed the rate and pattern of juvenile salmon habitat development in terms of fish density, available prey resources, and diet composition of wild juvenile Oncorhynchus tshawytscha (chinook salmon). Results from the outmigration of 1998 and 1999 show differences in fish densities, prey resources, and diet composition among the four sites. Peaks in chinook salmon densities were greatest in the reference site in 1998 and in the youngest (1996) site in 1999. The 1996 marsh had higher densities of chironomids (insects; average 864/m2) and lower densities of amphipods (crustaceans; average 8/m3) when compared with the other sites. Fauna differences were reflected in the diets of juvenile chinook with those occupying the 1978 and 1996 marshes based on insects (especially chironomids), whereas those from the 1987 and reference marshes were based on crustaceans (especially amphipods). Tracking the development of recovering emergent marsh ecosystems in the Salmon River estuary reveals significant fish and invertebrate response in the first 2 to 3 years after marsh restoration. This pulse of productivity in newly restored systems is part of the trajectory of development and indicates some level of early functionality and the efficacy of restoring estuarine marshes for juvenile salmon habitat. However, to truly know the benefits consumers experience in recovering systems requires further analysis that we will present in forthcoming publications.