Predicting performance for ecological restoration: a case study using Spartina alterniflora


  • Corresponding Editor: L. A. Deegan.


The success of population-based ecological restoration relies on the growth and reproductive performance of selected donor materials, whether consisting of whole plants or seed. Accurately predicting performance requires an understanding of a variety of underlying processes, particularly gene flow and selection, which can be measured, at least in part, using surrogates such as neutral marker genetic distances and simple latitudinal effects. Here we apply a structural equation modeling approach to understanding and predicting performance in a widespread salt marsh grass, Spartina alterniflora, commonly used for ecological restoration throughout its native range in North America. We collected source materials from throughout this range, consisting of eight clones each from 23 populations, for transplantation to a common garden site in coastal Louisiana and monitored their performance. We modeled performance as a latent process described by multiple indicator variables (e.g., clone diameter, stem number) and estimated direct and indirect influences of geographic and genetic distances on performance. Genetic distances were determined by comparison of neutral molecular markers with those from a local population at the common garden site. Geographic distance metrics included dispersal distance (the minimum distance over water between donor and experimental sites) and latitude. Model results indicate direct effects of genetic distance and latitude on performance variation among the donor sites. Standardized effect strengths indicate that performance was roughly twice as sensitive to variation in genetic distance as to latitudinal variation. Dispersal distance had an indirect influence on performance through effects on genetic distance, indicating a typical pattern of genetic isolation by distance. Latitude also had an indirect effect on genetic distance through its linear relationship with dispersal distance. Three performance indicators had significant loadings on performance alone (mean clone diameter, mean number of stems, mean number of inflorescences), while the performance indicators mean stem height and mean stem width were also influenced by latitude. We suggest that dispersal distance and latitude should provide an adequate means of predicting performance in future S. alterniflora restorations and propose a maximum sampling distance of 300 km (holding latitude constant) to avoid the sampling of inappropriate ecotypes.