Question: Are changes in plant species composition, functional group composition and rates of species turnover consistent among early successional wetlands, and what is the role of landscape context in determining the rate of succession?
Location: Twenty-four restored wetlands in Illinois, USA.
Methods: We use 4 years of vegetation sampling data from each site to describe successional trends and rates of species turnover in wetlands. We quantify: (1) the rate at which composition changes from early-successional to late-successional species and functional groups, as indicated by site movement in ordination space over time, and (2) the rate of change in the colonization and local extinction of individual species. We correlate the pace of succession to site area, isolation and surrounding land cover.
Results: Some commonalities in successional trends were evident among sites. Annual species were replaced by clonal perennials, and colonization rates declined over time. However, differences among sites outweighed site age in determining species composition, and the pace of succession was influenced by a site's landscape setting. Rates of species turnover were higher in smaller wetlands. In addition, wetlands in agricultural landscapes underwent succession more rapidly, as indicated by a rapid increase in dominance by late-successional plants.
Conclusions: Although the outcome of plant community succession in restored wetlands was somewhat predictable, species composition and the pace of succession varied among sites. The ability of restoration practitioners to accelerate succession through active manipulation may be contingent upon landscape context.