Transplanting native dominant plants to facilitate community development in restored coastal plain wetlands
Drained depressional wetlands are typically restored by plugging ditches or breaking drainage tiles to allow recovery of natural ponding regimes, while relying on passive recolonization from seed banks and dispersal to establish emergent vegetation. However, in restored depressions of the southeastern United States Coastal Plain, certain characteristic rhizomatous graminoid species may not recolonize because they are dispersal-limited and uncommon or absent in the seed banks of disturbed sites. We tested whether selectively planting such wetland dominants could facilitate restoration by accelerating vegetative cover development and suppressing non-wetland species. In an operational-scale project in a South Carolina forested landscape, drained depressional wetlands were restored in early 2001 by completely removing woody vegetation and plugging surface ditches. After forest removal, tillers of two rhizomatous wetland grasses (Panicum hemitomon, Leersia hexandra) were transplanted into singlespecies blocks in 12 restored depressions that otherwise were revegetation passively. Presence and cover of all plant species appearing in planted plots and unplanted control plots were recorded annually. We analyzed vegetation composition after two and four years, during a severe drought (2002) and after hydrologic recovery (2004). Most grass plantings established successfully, attaining 15%–85% cover in two years. Planted plots had fewer total species and fewer wetland species compared to control plots, but differences were small. Planted plots achieved greater total vegetative cover during the drought and greater combined cover of wetland species in both years. By 2004, planted grasses appeared to reduce cover of non-wetland species in some cases, but wetter hydrologic conditions contributed more strongly to suppression of non-wetland species. Because these two grasses typically form a dominant cover matrix in herbaceous depressions, our results indicated that planting selected species could supplement passive restoration by promoting a vegetative structure closer to that of natural wetlands.