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Development of Vegetation and Aquatic Habitat in Restored Riparian Sites of California's North Coast Rangelands


M. Lennox, email


The preponderance of short-term objectives and lack of systematic monitoring of restoration projects limits opportunities to learn from past experience and improve future restoration efforts. We conducted a retrospective, cross-sectional survey of 89 riparian revegetation sites and 13 nonrestored sites. We evaluated 36 restoration metrics at each site and used project age (0–39 years) to quantify plant community and aquatic habitat trajectories with a maximum likelihood model selection approach to compare linear and polynomial relationships. We found significant correlations with project age for 16 of 21 riparian vegetation, and 11 of 15 aquatic habitat attributes. Our results indicated improvements in multiple ecosystem services and watershed functions such as diversity, sedimentation, carbon sequestration, and available habitat. Ten riparian vegetation metrics, including native tree and exotic shrub density, increased nonlinearly with project age, while litter and native shrub density increased linearly. Species richness and cover of annual plants declined over time. Improvements in aquatic habitat metrics, such as increasing pool depth and decreasing bankfull width-to-depth ratio, indicated potentially improved anadromous fish habitats at restored sites. We hypothesize that certain instream metrics did not improve because of spatial and/or temporal limitations of riparian vegetation to affect aquatic habitat. Restoration managers should be prepared to maintain or enhance understory diversity by controlling exotic shrubs or planting shade-tolerant native species as much as 10 years after revegetation.