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Keywords:

  • complexity;
  • disturbance;
  • monitoring;
  • multivariate;
  • ordination;
  • pollution;
  • restoration;
  • reference system

Abstract

Assessing the community-level consequences of ecological restoration treatments is essential to guide future restoration efforts. We compared the vegetation composition and species richness of restored sites that received a range of restoration treatments and those of unrestored sites that experienced varying levels of disturbance. Our study was conducted in the industrially degraded landscape surrounding Sudbury, Ontario, Canada. The Great Lakes–St. Lawrence Forest once present in this area was degraded through logging, mining, and smelting activities beginning in the late 1800s until restoration of the most visibly degraded areas began in 1974. Restoration treatments ranged from simple abiotic enhancements to complex, multistage revegetation treatments using native and non-native species, which included fertilizing, spreading of ground dolomitic limestone, understory seeding, and tree planting. Canonical correspondence analysis was used to determine which restoration treatments explained differences in the community structure among sites. We found that native understory vascular species richness was similar in restored sites that received more complex restoration treatments and unrestored sites that were mildly disturbed; however, the role of planted trees and non-native species in the restored communities remains unclear. Understory vascular seeding played a key role in determining community composition of vascular understory and overstory communities, but the time since restoration commenced was a more important factor for nonvascular communities because they received no direct biotic enhancements. The use of non-native species in the vascular seed mix seems to be slowly encouraging the colonization of native species, but non-natives continue to dominate restored sites 25 years after restoration began.