Linking plant ecology and long-term hydrology to improve wetland restoration success
Although millions of dollars are spent restoring wetlands, failures are common, in part because the planted vegetation cannot survive in the restored hydrology. Wetland restoration would be more successful if the hydrologic requirements of wetland plant communities were known so that the most appropriate plants could be selected for the range of projected hydrology at the site. Here we describe how hydrologic models can be used to characterize the long-term hydrology of wetland plant communities, and we show how these results can be used to define wetland design criteria. In our study, we quantified differences in long-term (40-year) hydrologic characteristics of the pond pine woodland (PPW), nonriverine swamp forest (NRSF), high pocosin (HP), and bay forest (BF) plant communities native to the North Carolina Coastal Plain. We found that the median water level was 8 cm below the land surface in PPW and 9, 2, and 8 cm above the land surface for NRSF, HP, and BF, respectively. When the land surface was inundated, the median duration of inundation was 91 d year-1 for PPW and 317, 243, and 307 d year-1 for NRSF, HP, and BF, respectively. Our models suggested that the PPW received an average of 15% of its water input from groundwater inflow, whereas the other communities we modeled did not appear to receive groundwater inflow. Using these results and soil organic layer thickness, we developed and propose design criteria linking soil, vegetation, and hydrology parameters that should contribute to improved restoration success.